Many associate mentoring with the workplace, but it has its merits before you’ve stepped on the career ladder. Graduates have the potential to learn from experienced people in their chosen field, which can help to get your own career off to the best possible start.
A mentor is an individual who provides support, advice and guidance to another. Typically, you would choose a mentor who has long-term success in the industry or role you want to move into yourself. Mentorship can be a short-term relationship or ongoing, and it might be formal meetings or casual check-ins from time to time – whatever you both decide on. If you’re keen to work with a mentor, here’s how to optimise your success and get the most out of the experience.
Plan each session in advance
In order to maximise each mentor session, it can help to plan a rough outline of what you want to cover or any questions you may have. As you go through your mentorship, more questions will naturally arise or you may need feedback on the actions you’ve taken from previous conversations, so planning this all before you meet can make sure you maximise the potential of each meeting.
Likewise, it can be beneficial to outline what you would like to achieve overall as early as possible, as this will form the trajectory of your mentorship. Do you need help identifying the direction you should head in after your degree or advice on working up the career ladder to achieve a certain role? Maybe you simply want help developing certain skills, such as leadership or management, or assistance making contacts in your sector.
Reflect and seek to learn
Ego doesn’t play a part in mentoring – or, at least, it shouldn’t do. One of the simplest and most effective ways to maximise your learning potential is to leave your ego at the door and allow yourself to reflect and learn.
Mentoring is a process that enables you to soak up the wisdom and knowledge of someone’s personal experiences or be guided through your own thoughts and challenges. Being a good listener is essential, for both mentor and mentee. Whether your mentor is sharing their experience or asking you to reflect on yourself, listen and really consider their words.
It’s easy to reply quickly without much thought to answer a question or jump to a conclusion, but taking a quiet moment to reflect before responding will help to make your conversation a valuable learning point. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and try to dig deeper to really understand their point, this is after all the opportunity for you to learn.
Be prepared to step outside your comfort zone
There will reach a point during your mentorship where you’ll need to step outside of your comfort zone and do things that might challenge you. But this is an essential part of the process and it’s necessary to develop your skill set and learn new things. If you always stick to what you know, you’re not going to grow, so expect that your mentor might challenge you to try new things, reach out to people you’ve not dealt with before to shadow them and learn from them, or take part in activities that might be nerve wracking, such as networking events or conferences.
Do your homework
Your mentor is there to guide you and offer advice, but the hard work is down to you. Even when you’re not in meetings with them, you need to be acting on the feedback they’ve provided you with and ensuring that you’re doing your homework.
For example, maybe they’ve suggested some reading material that could benefit your career goals, identified work experience opportunities, or perhaps they’ve advised you to take part in an online course to strengthen your professional development even further. The only way you’ll get the most from your mentoring sessions is to take action and fulfil your part of the partnership, which means putting in the hours outside of your conversations with your mentor.
Focus on the outcome
Keeping track of your progress will ensure you don’t get derailed or distracted while you’re working towards your long-term goals. The best way to do this is to set yourself a mix of short-term and long-term goals, that all align with the overall outcome you’re trying to achieve. It will keep you focused, accountable and ensure that you stay disciplined. But, it also shows your mentor that you value the time and effort they put into mentoring you, and that the investment of their expertise is worthwhile.
In the early stages of your career, working with a mentor can be incredibly useful to ensure that you achieve beneficial skills, meet with the right contacts and keep your career on a positive trajectory. It can be a valuable relationship to foster and one that can last a long time in many cases. The trick, however, is to ensure you’re truly making the most out of the advice and guidance you’re given.