Harris Fanaroff

5 ways to build a strong mentor relationship as the mentee

There’s a good chance you’ve experienced a strong mentor relationship with someone at some point in your life. Whether that has been at work when you have a new task to take on, a teacher in school that helped you figure out your career, or a coach when you were playing a sport, we’ve all had experiences with mentors. The research shows that there are tons of benefits to forming mentor relationships in the workplace including promotions, raises, and increased opportunities. Mentoring has proved to be so beneficial that 71% of Fortune 500 companies offer mentoring programs to their employees. While the stats are important, mentoring will not lead to any positive results unless there is a strong relationship built. With that being said, I wanted to share five techniques for building a strong relationship as the mentee.

  1. Provide value at no cost

This person is taking time out of their busy day to meet with you and help you with your career through their experiences. Think about what you can do for them that can be helpful. Is there a task that they talk about doing that you could perhaps take off their hands or a stretch project they’ve always wanted to do but never had the time? Think about ways that you can provide value to your mentor as that will only strengthen the relationship.

Helpful tip: Be alert for areas the mentor says they are working on that you could help take off their plate. Be okay asking the question, “what can I do to be helpful for you?” Mentor relationships work best when both people are helping each other.

2. Set the agenda

It is your job as the mentee to come up with what you want to talk about during each session. The mentor is taking time out of their day and you want to make sure that it is a good use of each other’s time. Spend 15-30 minutes before the session thinking through what you want to talk about with your mentor. It is best practice to jot down a few notes on what you want to talk about, and then bring that journal to the session to take notes.

Helpful tip: Taking notes during the session will ensure you are able to remember if the mentor gives you a book recommendation or piece of helpful information that you want to remember.

3. Come prepared and ask good questions

Become curious about your mentor and ask them good questions that help you learn as much as you can from their experiences. Good questions tend to start with “what,” or “how” and are usually shorter in nature. Asking good questions shows that you are present and care about the relationship. People love to talk about their experiences and it’s important as the mentee to get curious about your mentor’s life. Make sure you look your mentor up on LinkedIn prior to meeting so you have a sense of their career to date.

Helpful tip: Come prepared with 5-7 strong questions that you want to discuss with your mentor during each session.

4. Be comfortably vulnerable

As the mentee, you get to set the tone as far as how deep you want this relationship to go. Understand it is okay, and often encouraged, to share things that you are struggling with to your mentor. Nobody is perfect and sometimes younger employees tend to want to make themselves look as if they have everything figured out. Your mentor will appreciate when you talk openly and honestly about your strengths and areas for improvement. The mentor is not there to tell your boss about a difficult issue you are facing, but rather they are a confidant than can be helpful to talk you through a similar situation they’ve faced.

Helpful tip: Establish a confidentiality agreement up front that you will not share anything your mentor says, and you ask for the same from them. The more your conversations can go below the normal surface we typically operate on, the better the relationship will be.

5. Be present

This one may seem obvious, and it’s important for everything in life, but be present with your mentor. Make sure you are doing things like closing your computer, keeping your phone in your pocket on silent mode, and making good eye contact. You will get so much more out of the relationship if you are able to shut off what you were working on and be 100% present in this conversation for the 30-60 minutes that you have scheduled.

Helpful tip: Utilize a grounding breathing technique prior to the start of the conversation to help you move on from your previous meeting.