How to Be a Model Mentee
So, you’ve found a mentor who meshes with your personal philosophy and ambitions. Great! Now, the hard part: making the most of your mentor meetings.
If you’ve never met with your mentor before, that first meeting can be daunting. “How does this work? What do I say?”
Although each mentor/mentee relationship is different, there are a few unspoken rules that will help you make the most of the time you spend with your mentor.
1. Come prepared.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin
Some people are amazing conversationalists. They seem to know just what to say to keep the ball in the air. Other people struggle with ever getting it off the ground.
Unfortunately, there are common pitfalls that everyone faces when meeting with a mentor for the first time. I’ve met people who can talk for hours but struggle to keep on topic, and I’ve met people who are filled with questions but don’t know how to ask. Either way, learning to use your limited time wisely is a skill you’ll need to learn, and the key to learning is preparation.
You should be well-versed in your mentor’s work prior to meeting with them. The worst thing you can do is waste your time (and their’s) asking question after question that you could easily find with a quick Google search. We’ll get to what questions you should ask later on, but for now, focus on your mentor’s philosophy and achievements. For example, maybe they’ve written extensively on business ethics, or maybe they’ve had experiences with turning around failing businesses. Find out what it is, specifically, that this person excels at, and make that the focus.
When you go into a meeting with a mentor, you should come prepared with a list of questions or topics that you definitely want to discuss. If you are one of those people with the gift of gab, this step will help you to avoid getting sidetracked in the flow of conversation, and if you struggle with the art of conversation, you’ll have a resource to reference when you get stuck.
2. Keep the focus on them.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” ― Stephen R. Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)
There will be time to solicit feedback from your mentor on the direction of your new novel or that business idea you’ve been developing. However, you should avoid monopolizing the conversation. It’s one thing to ask specific questions that will guide the conversation toward the topics that you want to discuss. It’s another thing to spend your meeting recounting your life story.
If you have a relevant question to ask or story to tell, go for it, but remember, they’re the expert. Stay humble, and listen before speaking. Your goal is to learn from their success, so a good rule of thumb is that the mentor should be doing 80% of the talking.
It’s also important to remember, your mentor’s experiences will often not be the same as your own. You can talk about yourself until you’re blue, but that information could be completely useless to them. They can tell you what worked for them, but it’s up to you to apply those lessons to your own life.
3. Ask good questions.
“Judge a man by his questions, rather than by his answers.” -Voltaire
So, let’s talk about what makes a good question. I’ll use the acronym ROI: Research, Openness, and Interest. You’ll remember it because by following these guidelines to illicit valuable responses, you’ll see a great return on investment (another kind of ROI) for your time.
Ask questions that show you’ve followed step one and done your research. Refer to something they’ve written or an experience they’ve had. Questions that ask a person to reflect on an experience are the most helpful because the answers tend to be less abstract when they are grounded in a story.
Keep your questions open. Your mentor should not be able to answer your question with a simple “yes” or “no.” For example, don’t frame your question as, “Do you think networking is an important step to success?” Instead, ask, “What is the best way to approach building potential business connections in this industry?”
Finally, your questions should be in line with your interest for this particular meeting. Each meeting with your mentor should be focused around one or two topics, which you can provide to your mentor ahead of time. Instead of asking 10 questions on 10 different topics, focus on delving into 1 overarching issue with follow-up questions to fully explore a particular idea. This step will help you to avoid shallow and superficial conversations.
Remember, the better the question, the better the answer.
Make a plan at the end of your talk to meet again. Even if you aren’t able to set a specific date or time, give your mentor an idea of when you’d like to meet next. Again, it all depends on what your goals are and how available your mentor is, but once or twice a month is usually a good timeline for mentorship meetings.
In the meantime, take actions toward applying something you’ve learned from your talk. For example, if you talked about being more assertive at work, start keeping a journal of instances where you’ve practiced that skill and other instances where you could have improved your approach.
While finding a good mentor can definitely kickstart your professional career, you can’t expect them to open doors for you. You need to do that for yourself. #MichaelsWilder #mentorship Click To Tweet
Take notes of your successes to your next meeting as a way to follow-up on the topics that you talked about last time. You’ll likely have new questions to ask, and your mentor will likely have new insights to share. Also, your mentor will be happy to see that the time and effort that he or she has invested in you has had a concrete effect on your progress. It’s rewarding for your mentor to know when they’ve contributed to someone’s success, so make sure to show your appreciation to your mentor by keeping them updated on the work you’ve done to honor their advice.
With so much focus on finding a mentor, many people forget that the important part is knowing how to effectively use that time with your mentor. The work does not end when you finally schedule that much-anticipated meeting with an expert in your field.
While finding a good mentor can definitely kickstart your professional career, you can’t expect them to open doors for you. You need to do that for yourself.