How can a mentor improve your career advancement and your business? Consider engaging in a mentoring relationship. A mentor can guide you, take you under his or her wing, and teach you new skills. Research has shown that mentoring relationships succeed and are satisfying for both parties when both the mentor and mentee take an active role in developing the relationship. Below are 10 tips you can implement to ensure you get what you need out of them.

Ten Tips for Making the Most of Your Mentor

  1. Be clear on why you want a mentor and why you are meeting. Define what type of help you are looking for in a mentor. Are you looking for someone with similar skills, or someone with a very different skill set who can coach you? Are you looking for someone who has gone up the corporate ladder and can advise you on the in and outs of corporate politics?
  2. Establish goals for the relationship. Discuss and agree upon the goals of the relationship and what you are doing in it. Review these goals from time to time to be sure the relationship is working; if not, adjust and refocus.
  3. Network, network, and network to find a suitable mentor. Once you decide on the type of mentor you need, participate in functions and professional associations where you might find this type of person—Chamber of Commerce events, alumni and professional associations, or even within your own company. You may also choose someone from your own firm, although it is best to avoid your direct supervisor.
  4. Don’t limit yourself to one mentor. You can establish multiple mentoring relationships with individuals who can address different aspects of your life. Think of it as building your own personal Board of Directors. Don’t underestimate the value of a “peer mentor” or someone at your level who has complimentary skills and experiences.
  5. Establish communication methods and frequency of contact. Talk to your mentor and determine the lines of communication that will work for both of you. Will you meet face to face or communicate mainly through e-mail and the telephone? Make sure you meet/talk enough to suit both of you.
  6. Manage expectations and build trust. Mentoring takes time and implies sacrifices for both the mentee and the mentor. Be respectful of your mentor’s time and the other priorities in his or her life—family, travel, community activities. Avoid any trust-breaking behaviors such as canceling appointments or not following through on leads and contacts given to you by your mentor.
  7. Acquire mentoring skills and competencies. Acquire great mentoring skills; these include listening, guidance, recommendations, and wisdom. When you receive corrective feedback from your mentor, don’t be defensive. Listen, digest, and take immediate steps to apply what you have learned.
  8. Be respectful of your mentor’s time. Do not overburden your mentor by demanding too much in terms of their time and/or contacts.
  9. Express your gratitude. The mentor may tend to give a lot more than you do in the relationship in terms of time and/or contacts. Be sure to express regularly that you value and appreciate your mentor’s guidance.
  10. Vary the activities you do together. There are numerous activities you can do together with your mentor, including talking about your past experiences, goals, plans, and skill development; attending meetings, conferences, and other events; shadowing your mentor at work; role-playing situations you find difficult; or exchanging and discussing written materials (your resume or an article one of you has written).

Calls to Action/Discussion Points

  1. Do you have one or several mentors as part of your sphere of influence? If not, think about how a mentor could help you advance your career or grow your business. Then network and find one.
  2. If you already have one or multiple mentors, have you been clear with them on your expectations and what you hope to get out of the relationship? If not, consider working on a Development Plan with your mentor which identifies three key goals you would like to work on during your time together.
  3. Are you taking the lead in driving your mentoring relationship? If not, take the initiative to invite your mentor to lunch and begin to establish a relationship. Be sure it is mutually beneficial and think of ways in which you can give back to your mentor.