No matter where you are in your career, one of the most valuable assets you can have is a mentor to turn to who has faced comparable challenges, overcome obstacles, and achieved some level of success in his or her life that you aspire to achieve. As a professional development tool, mentoring is one of the most effective means of getting feedback, support, and direction for your career goals.
But at the same time, mentoring is not the holy grail of career success. While a mentor can guide you, teach you new skills, and expose you to a whole lot of new experiences and people along the way, it’s really up to you to determine how successful the relationship will be.
Here are five factors you need to consider if you really want to make the most of having a mentor.
- Make Sure You Choose the Right Person
Instinctively, we tend to be attracted to the kind of people we’d like to become- those individuals who possess qualities that we hope to bring out in ourselves. But even if you find an individual you would like to emulate, the truth is such a person may not necessarily be the best fit for you as a mentor.
To be a good mentor, this person has to possess a certain amount of clarity, openness, and the ability to give over the details of how he or she achieved success. Not everyone has these qualities.
And while we are on the subject of choosing… realise that a mentor doesn’t have to be a formal relationship assigned to you through your firm’s mentor program. Even informal meetings with a senior employee or a peer can be a wellspring of advice and support. You don’t have to limit yourself to one mentor, either. Realise that one individual is not likely to be your mentor in all aspects of your professional development. You can establish multiple mentoring relationships with individuals who can help you grow in different areas of your career.
Above all, you need to be clear about why you want a mentor in the first place, why you are meeting with this particular person, and what kind of help you are looking for.
- Revere, But Don’t Idolise
Depending on who your mentor is, you may feel a bit timid or intimidated in this person’s presence. Do your best to get over it. Mentors should be a role model who you respect and look up to. But at the same time, he or she is not Superman or Superwoman. If you really want to benefit from having a mentor, then you need to hone in on the the skills, strengths, and ups and downs of this person’s professional journey that you relate to. You may also want to note how your mentor copes with any weaknesses or deficiencies.
- Choose Your Meeting Times Wisely
Mentors are people you meet when you are ready for advice, and they are ready to give it. This means meetings shouldn’t be at a time when either you or your mentor is under pressure or are distracted. You also should not flood your mentor with an overwhelming number of meeting requests or try to command too much of this person’s attention. Bottom line: be respectful of your mentor’s time as well as your own.
- Give, Don’t Just Receive
Mentoring is a relationship that requires honesty, respect, and a healthy give and take from both sides. I know that the title to this article is “How to Get the Most from Your Mentor,” but a good mentor relationship really starts (and ends) with giving.
So, how do you exactly give to your mentor? The first, most vital step is by truly and actively listening to and appreciating the advice being given. Many mentors, especially the ones who have been around for a while, like giving advice to someone ready to listen. So make it a point to look and listen, process what you’ve seen and heard, learn from it, and then take immediate steps to apply what you have learned. Second, realise that the success or failure of the mentor relationship mostly depends on you. You have to do your homework and then show up to meetings with the questions that matter most. Many younger candidates in particular assume a mentor will simply guide them without requiring much input from their side. They end up learning the hard way that it usually doesn’t work like that.
- Learn from the Experience, But Don’t Try to Imitate It
Your mentor may have achieved a level of success that you would like to achieve one day, but that doesn’t mean your path to such success will be the same as your mentor’s. Each person has different strengths and weaknesses, skills and talents, opportunities and obstacles in their lives. You need to take the path that is the most suitable for you. The relationship you have with your mentor should inspire you to make your own way, and not to turn your life and career moves into a carbon copy of your mentor’s.
In short, your mentor relationship is what you make it. It’s like most investments in life. The more you put into it, the more you will get back.