Working with a Mentor

When you’re studying for professional qualifications, it can be incredibly helpful to have a mentor to help you get the most out of your learning and development. Research suggests that mentoring can benefit people in many different ways, such as by helping them to learn more about the business they work in, gain confidence, deal more effectively with challenging situations and have better working relationships with colleagues and managers and so on.

 

So what is mentoring all about?

Mentoring is a two way relationship involving discussion and increasing self-awareness. The role of a mentor is not to give you all the answers to your questions and problems, but to help you learn how to do things for yourself. A good mentor will share his/her experience and wisdom with you, and help you navigate your way through difficult decisions, but your personal and professional development is always your responsibility and your mentor will not tell you what you should do. When you’re looking for a mentor, try to find someone who:

  • has experience of the type of work you do or the industry you’re working in (or you want to work in)
  • you have a good rapport with (or at least someone you feel you will be able to talk to openly and honestly)
  • has done similar learning in the past

 

How to find a mentor

Mentors don’t just grow on trees, so you’ll need to be pro-active in finding one to work with. Here are some steps you can take to get started:

 

  1. Consider carefully what you want to get out of mentoring: try and be as clear as possible about your goals and what your success criteria will be.
  2. Decide what you are looking for in a prospective mentor: do you want someone who works in the same organisation as you or would you benefit from working with someone with different workplace experience? If you’re considering your line manager as a mentor, are there any topics you wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to them about? Would it be helpful if they had particular industry or professional experience? Do you want a mentor who is within a particular geographical area?
  3. Make a list of where you might find a mentor: your company might have a mentoring programme which you could join; professional bodies such as the CIPD often organise local mentoring schemes for their members; scrutinise the contacts in your own network: is there someone you particularly respect and admire who you think you might be able to learn from?
  4. From your list, identify potential mentors and consider their strengths and weaknesses in relation to your own mentoring goals. Who do you feel would be the best person to mentor you?
  5. Approach your first choice of mentor: don’t be afraid – most people will be flattered to be asked to become a mentor. Plan in advance what you’re going to say; be clear about why you are asking them and explain the role you want them to play in your development. If you are well prepared and confident, you will come across as more professional and more likely to get the support you want.
  6. However, don’t be disheartened or offended if they say no – they may have very good reasons for not wishing to be a mentor that are completely unrelated to you – they may be incredibly busy, or it’s not the right time for them to take on a mentee, so don’t take it personally, just thank them then approach the next person on your list and so on until someone says yes.
  7. Once you’ve found a mentor, you should take the initiative to arrange a meeting with them. Don’t wait for the mentor to do this for you: remember – this is about your personal and professional development and it is YOUR responsibility. Phone or email your mentor; thank them first for agreeing to support you in this way, then ask when and where it would be convenient to meet.

 

Some do’s and don’ts:

  • A successful mentoring relationship is more likely if both mentor and mentee are clear about the objectives and benefits of mentoring so when you first meet with your mentor be as clear as you can about what you hope to get out of the mentoring.
  • Agree with your mentor how you are going to work together: will you have meetings face to face, if so where? Or by telephone or email? How often will you talk? Can you contact your mentor in between meetings? Etc.
  • Make sure you stick to agreed meetings, whether face to face or by phone. Remember that your mentor is giving up their time to help you, and may feel frustrated if you cancel frequently or turn up late.
  • Don’t expect your mentor to solve your problems for you – by all means discuss them with your mentor, and take the opportunity to explores, but be prepared to take responsibility for your own choices.
  • Don’t take advantage of your mentor’s goodwill by becoming dependent on them – this isn’t healthy as it means you are avoiding responsibility for making your own decisions. It also puts a great burden on your mentor’s shoulders.
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Comments

  • Hi Joss,

    I'm really pleased, no in fact honoured to be asked to work with someone in a mentor capacity. I've never been a mentor only a mentoree and this blog really helped with my thinking on how to approach this.

    This is a great learning opportunity for me and we've already had a good first conversation to discuss what we want to achieve and how we can help each other.

    Will keep you posted on how it goes but thanks again for the really useful post

    Mike

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