How to Be a Great Mentee (In 4 Easy Steps)

The secret to building an effective developmental network starts with you.

Posted May 13, 2019

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash
boy standing on ladder reaching for the clouds
Source: Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

You’ve no doubt heard countless times that you need to find a mentor, if not several mentors, to get ahead professionally, and find fulfillment and meaning personally. As someone who speaks and writes on the topics of mentorship and young professional development for a living, I’m not going to dispute these claims. I truly believe that having a robust developmental network is one of the most important personal and professional steps that you can take. And in particular, for those who are just entering the workforce for the first time, finding and building relationships with a trusted set of mentors, wise counselors, and sponsors can make the difference between a successful first professional role and one that is immensely frustrating and challenging.

And, as someone who speaks and writes on the topic of mentorship and young professional development for a living, I can pretty much guarantee that you’re doing it all wrong. You are, almost definitely, being a terrible mentee. And there’s no better way to repel current or potential future mentors from supporting you. What are some of the hallmark behaviors of a terrible mentee?

  • Wait for mentors to find you. Terrible mentees sit back and assume that amazing mentors will seek them out. They ask questions like, “Why can’t I find a mentor?” and complain that no one has ever mentored them. They think that they deserve mentorship, instead of seeking ways to earn it.
  • Break confidences. Terrible mentees are known to be untrustworthy. They are gossips, always looking for the next scoop to share with the rest of the office. They demonstrate in their behavior that it is all about them and their forward progress, no matter who gets in the way.
  • Get frustrated when your mentor isn’t fixing your problems. Terrible mentees complain loudly when their mentor isn’t doing the work for them, and wonder why their mentor can’t be better as a mentor. They tie great mentorship to positional leadership, the person with the biggest title, instead of to the person with the best ability to mentor them.
  • Shirk your responsibilities. Terrible mentees forget to show up for meetings, show up unprepared, and generally don’t respect their mentor’s time. They make their mentor have to chase them down and don’t value the personal and professional investment the mentor is making in them.

More and more, employees who have a growth mindset, who are willing to be learning-oriented and coachable, are the ones that both employers and mentors are seeking. Just one of the above behaviors would send any mentor or employer running, and I’ve often seen a single mentee do them all. Do them often enough, and you will be branded as someone who isn’t worth the time or the effort.

The good news is, being a great mentee is actually quite simple. So simple, in fact, it is constantly surprising how often people screw it up. It does require work, yes, but it is work to your benefit. In fact, in any effective mentoring relationship the mentee should be doing far more work than the mentor is, or something is really off-kilter.

Follow these four easy steps to being a great mentee and not only will you invest in your own development, you will attract others to your path, as well. And that’s a certain roadmap to success.

  • Own your growth. Before you ask someone else to invest in you and your path, you have to be willing to invest in yourself. Think critically about your strengths, interests, and values. Set personal and professional goals and be honest about who and what you need to help you to achieve those goals. Be willing to work towards these goals, whether or not you have a mentor who is working with you. After all, if you aren’t willing to do the work on yourself, why should anyone else be bothered to walk beside you on that path?
  • Seek out relationships based on trust. Spend time creating intentional relationships with people in your network. All mentoring relationships have two key components: the goal that you are working towards, and the relationship. Demonstrate to others that you are worthy of their trust by keeping theirs. Before you ask someone to be in a mentoring relationship with you, actually do the work of building a relationship with them. Over time, share the goals you are working towards, and ask them if they would be willing to guide you on that path.
  • Be learning-oriented. Instead of focusing on everything you can get out of another person, focus on what you can learn from them. Take ownership for your own learning and growth by seeking additional resources – books, videos, courses – to help you to meet your goals. Share what you are learning with your mentor as another point of conversation and feedback. Be intentionally reflective and passionate about your own growth.
  • Do the work. Between mentoring meetings, do the work to meet your goals. Mentoring relationships are all about you, your growth and your development, and it’s on you to do that work. Demonstrate that you take the relationship seriously by showing up to meetings prepared, on time, and ready to work. Be mindful of how you are respecting and valuing the other person’s investment in you.