Tips for Having a Productive Mentorship Experience
With Women’s History Month approaching in March, I’ve been thinking about the importance of women mentoring women. I am passionate about this subject because I believe there are some things that only a woman can teach another woman about how to succeed in today’s professional atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong, men play a very important role in mentorship, given they make up the majority of C-Suite-Level positions, however the statistics say women need women in a unique way. Forbes Magazine and the Harvard Business Review tell us that, “While both men and women benefit from having a network of well-connected peers across different groups, women who also have an inner circle of close female contacts are more likely to land executive positions with greater authority and higher pay.” It is for this reason that I make a specific effort to mentor, be mentored, and network with women who understand the dynamics at play within the professional world. Having had many positive experiences, both as a mentor and a mentee, I’m offering a few thoughts on how to get the most out of a mentoring experience, from both perspectives.
Steps to providing a productive mentoring experience:
Meet in the form of a job-shadow when possible. Allowing your mentee to observe you in your element can offer more insight into the dynamic of your role than you ever could by meeting over coffee. If your organization allows you this opportunity, it can be a rewarding one for everyone involved.
Prepare for the session. Find a few moments prior to the session to research the mentee using resources like LinkedIn in order to understand as much about their experience so far, as well as their ambitions as goals. This will make for the most productive experience because you can shorten the get-to-know you portion of the session. Another helpful way you can prepare for the meeting is to put together a (maybe mentally only) list of contacts or resources you think may be of use to the mentee. What events or organizations were you a part of early on in your career that helped get you to where you are? What speakers did you seek out? Share your wealth of knowledge.
Introduce your mentee to others in your sphere when possible, even if only virtually. When you hit it off with a mentee, be proud of that relationship and provide the invaluable resource of connections. You could even invite your mentee to attend an industry event as your guest. This experience provides the mentee with an even more in-depth look at how your industry functions.
Be willing to share your truth. Don’t just talk about the things that have worked for you and the positive outcomes. Mentees can sometimes learn more from what didn’t work for you, as what did.
What’s in it for you, as the mentor:
Feed the ego! Just kidding...but seriously, talking about your journey and your successes always feels good. Don’t forget that learning feels good too. You most likely won’t get out of a mentoring experience without learning something from your mentee as well.
Mentoring has the added bonus of bringing ambitious, interested people into your sphere, and that of your organization. Don’t forget to talk about that dynamic to your organization if you’re asking for permission to bring a mentee in for a job-shadow.
Steps to ensuring you are a quality mentee:
Come with thoughtful questions. In order to capitalize on everyone’s time, bring some well thought out questions you’d like to have answered in your time with your mentor.
Know who you are spending time with. Hopefully, if you’ve done the work to set-up a mentorship experience, you know who your mentor is. Take the initiative to do some research about your mentor’s journey to this place in their career. Your thoughtful questions will be more productive if you have already found out the basics of their career path from easy-to-find resources like LinkedIn and company bios.
Don’t treat the meeting like a job interview. Your experience as a mentee should not be purely transactional. Think beyond getting your resume into your mentor’s hands. The time with your mentor should be about growth, not locking down a specific opportunity.
Be appreciative and follow up. Take the initiative to continue the relationship, if it went well, by sending a thank you and asking when your mentor may be open to meeting again.
What's in it for you, as the mentee:
By taking part in a mentorship experience, not only will you grow your network, but maybe more importantly, you will provide yourself with an opportunity to learn from the stories and journeys of other successful people.
Putting yourself in the midst of an industry by spending time with a professional within it, will allow you to gain insight into whether a specific job/industry is in fact what you are interested in. Remember, finding out something isn’t right for you is just as useful, (maybe more so), as finding out it is.