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How to be a Great Mentor

Few professional relationships are as unique and stimulating to a career plan as that between a mentor and a mentee. We’ve discussed the importance of finding a mentor, and how finding that one great mentor can be an important factor in landing your dream job, but how do you return the karma into the workforce once you’ve advanced in your career? Become a mentor yourself! Hopefully you were lucky enough early on to find a teacher who truly made a difference—one that offered such a positive experience that you want to do the same for somebody else. Or maybe you’ve simply accrued enough experience and knowledge in your field that you want to pass it on to another. Either way, when considering becoming a mentor, it’s important to realize that it’s a very give-and-take relationship.

In order to get the most out of your mentoring experience and ensure that your mentee gets the same, be sure to follow these simple tips:

  1. Use your expertise (or follow the golden rule). If you had a mentor in the past, take into consideration what you enjoyed about it, what he or she did that you may or may not have found helpful. If you didn’t, imagine how you would feel if you were in the mentee’s position. Many young professionals or those looking to make a career change don’t want to be too demanding of their mentor and, in some cases, might be a bit nervous regarding their future career. When forming a relationship with your mentee, try to remember what it was like to be starting out in your field.
  2. Commit to a set period of time. Of course, should you work well together, the relationship can extend for as long as you’d wish. But be it a few weeks or months, try to set a minimum amount of time you’ll spend with your mentee to ensure that you give them enough of your expertise. Few things in a mentoring relationship can be as unprofessional and disappointing as having your mentor disappear on you or lack commitment while you still have questions.
  3. Make the relationship a priority. Your mentee should understand that you’re busy, but you should still be considerate of your commitment. Respond to emails and/or phone calls in a timely manner and do all you can to help.
  4. Listen and ask questions. Though you’re ultimately there to help based on your experiences, it’s important to avoid preaching. Your mentee likely has a lot of questions and needs your input. Also remember that as industries change and evolve, there is a lot you can learn from your younger counterpart.
  5. Be understanding and confidential. One of the major differences between a mentor-mentee relationship and other business relationships is that the professional seeking help should feel comfortable asking questions that might seem elementary or embarrassing. Reassure your mentee that they have your discretion and confidence through your actions.
  6. Don’t be a helicopter mentor. Don’t hover or over-direct. You should help your mentee wherever appropriate, but remember that one of the most effective ways to learn is to experiment, make mistakes, and resolve problems. Encourage and guide from a distance—this will also encourage your mentee to respect and trust you as a helpful, but not overbearing, teacher.
  7. Likewise, demonstrate. Rather than preaching or steering your mentee, teach him or her through example. Plan a day for him or her to shadow you at your office, accompany you to meetings, or review your work. Leading by example is the most effective way to build a relationship and effectively pass on your knowledge and experience in a professional way.

Should your relationship prove fruitful, both you and your mentee will have learned from each other. On top of that, you will both have new professional references for future job searches. It may be common sense for a mentee to list his or her mentor as a reference, but have you considered the other way around? A mentee could be a fantastic reference to add to your list—and not one that many hiring managers often see. So take your career—and someone else’s—further. Become a great mentor!

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