Photo of the importance of mentorship and how to find a good mentor

The importance of mentorship and how to find a great mentor

No matter where you are in your career, finding and maintaining a mentor-mentee relationship can provide value. If you are just graduating from college or a bootcamp, you might feel lost and unsure of what types of jobs to apply for and how to navigate these processes. Or maybe you have been recently laid off or you are feeling stagnant in your current role and you need help figuring out your next move.

If these situations sound familiar, working with a mentor can help you extensively. In general, mentors act as a sounding board and guide for difficult decisions and, since they usually are older or have more experience than you do, they can provide you with “inside information” because they have already been there.

At Pathrise, our mentors work 1-on-1 with job-seekers every day on each step of the search so that they always have someone in their corner. We outlined the most important tips for finding a mentor and making the most out of the relationship.

What to look for in a mentor

Think about what you want to be doing later in your career (roughly 3-5 years from where you are now) and then find someone who is doing exactly that. For example, if you are currently an entry level software engineer, you should think about what the next step looks like for you – are you interested in management or more challenging projects or maybe you want to work on a different team with different tools.

Once you decide where your interests lie for the next few years, look for someone who matches that goal. Ideally, your mentor should be someone who has a connection to you – they can work at your company or perhaps they are a professor, TA, or grad student you have worked with from your school. Make sure that the person will be able to commit the time as well. For example, if they just got married and they are leaving for their honeymoon soon or if they just had a baby and will be on leave, they probably are not the best person to approach.

Qualities of a good mentor

When you are thinking about who to ask to be your mentor, there are certain qualities you should consider. It is important for a mentor to be excited to share knowledge and help someone on their journey. Look for managers who frequently provide guidance to younger employees or team leaders who take the time to teach other people new skills. These are attributes of someone who is enthusiastic about mentoring.

A good mentor is also direct and honest in their feedback without being overly critical or harsh. You don’t want someone who sugar coats everything, but you also want to make sure that they are respectful and kind in their advice. Their feedback should be actionable without telling you exactly what to do. Finally, your mentor should be empathetic and a good listener, not just someone who is waiting for their turn to speak.

Here are some questions to ask when considering someone as a mentor:

  • Do they have experience going down the same journey as you (to a place you are interested in)?
  • Do they seem to enjoy helping others be successful?
  • Are they good at giving and receiving feedback and advice?
  • Do they speak in an honest and respectful way?
  • Do you respect and like this person at work and in general?
  • Do they have mentors of their own? (If so, that’s a good sign they understand the value and impact of a mentoring relationship.)

Set your goals and expectations

Before you approach someone to be your mentor, you need to do some preparation. You cannot go into a mentor relationship and just say, “I need help.” That leaves too much of the onus on the mentor and it means that you have not really thought through why you want to interact with this person.

To start, map out your goals. What does success look like for you? Be specific on what you are trying to accomplish and why a mentor will help you. 

Some thoughts to consider when deciding your goals for your mentor-mentee relationship:

  • What do you want to learn? 
  • Where do you need to be more motivated? 
  • Do you need a sounding board?

You also need to figure out what your expectations are for the relationship, logistically. Do you want to meet them every other week, once a month, once every 2 months? Having a clear schedule of meetings is helpful because it holds both of you accountable. Be cognizant of meeting too frequently because you don’t want to put a drain on your relationship. You should also plan how you will meet – over the phone, Zoom, coffee, etc. Face-to-face (virtually or in-person) is generally better and you can save email for ad hoc questions.

How do you ask?

Now that you have found the perfect person, you want to be very deliberate in the way that you ask them to be your mentor. Avoid asking this question over email because it is very easy for them to ignore it or say no – instead, you can email or text them to set up a face-to-face conversation over coffee or Zoom. 

When you meet with them, start with general small talk so you are not launching right into your ask. When it feels like the right moment, be prepared with your plan. Outline your expectations, the time commitment, and what you are hoping to accomplish with this person as your mentor. Explain why you have chosen this person – talk about how their career trajectory matches your goals, highlight your commonalities, and don’t be afraid to flatter them a little by mentioning how you are impressed by the level of expertise they have achieved. Finally, let them know that you hope it can be a mutually beneficial relationship.

After you speak with them, they might want to think about it, which is completely normal. Wait a week and send a polite follow up email where you check in. If they do not seem excited to work with you in this capacity, do not push the relationship. Your mentor should be ready to help you, so you should find someone else if that is not the case. If they do agree, take the lead and send them your goals and expectations as well as set up the consistent meetings so you can hit the ground running.

How to make the most out of your mentorship

Success! You have secured a mentor and you are regularly meeting so that you can accomplish your goals. In these sessions, you should be paying close attention to what they say and if/when they give you advice, you should follow it. You chose this person for their expertise, so for the most part, you should listen. If, for some reason, you do not agree with their advice, be upfront and let them know why. It will likely lead to an even greater lesson.

If you don’t know what to ask them at any point, think about ways you can improve yourself professionally. Some examples:

  • How you conduct yourself in meetings
  • Time management, project management, team management
  • Career growth – online courses you could take, tools you could learn, etc

A strong mentor-mentee relationship is a great way to source expert knowledge and grow professionally and personally. Finding and maintaining a mentor is especially helpful when you are in the midst of transition – looking for your first job out of college, making a role switch, or transitioning teams or into a leadership position.

Pathrise is a career accelerator that works with students and professionals to find their dream job in tech through 1-on-1 mentorship. If you are looking to be matched with industry and career mentors who will guide you through each stage of the job search, become a fellow.

Apply today.

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