3 Tips to Proactively Elevate Your Mentorship Experience

How mentees can get the most out of a mentor.

Posted Oct 30, 2020

What do Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Warren Buffet have in common? Among other things, they’ve all had mentors at some point in their professional development. As mentees, they took advantage of learning from others’ experiences and tapping into more seasoned professionals as resources for business advice, strategy, and insights.

Actively seeking out a mentor can sometimes feel awkward and transactional, but relationship-based networking is essential for personal and professional growth. A survey by Kabbage found that 92% of small businesses agree that mentors directly impact the development and the survival of their business. Don’t fall into the misconception that you don’t need mentors once you’ve found your own success — the beauty of mentorship is that it gives you the opportunity to never stop learning and growing, no matter where you are in your career.

To realize the powerful benefits of mentorship, go beyond simply picking a mentor and connecting with them for regular meetings. Another misconception is that mentors are responsible for setting the agenda, but the most effective mentorships function as a two-way street, where the mentee takes a proactive approach to drive the relationship. Here’s how you can carry this proactivity throughout the process—from selecting a mentor, to charting the course of discussions, to soliciting feedback.

1. Selecting a mentor

Like school and work, most mentoring has shifted remotely in our COVID-19 world, but this will likely remain the norm long after the pandemic subsides. This isn’t a bad thing. Going virtual opens up opportunities to choose mentors outside of your geographic area. If you’re looking for a mentor in another city, state, or country, you more than likely don’t know this person, so be proactive about getting to know your prospective mentor. Ask for an introduction from a mutual friend or business associate and do your research on their background to pave the way for a dialogue about mentorship. It’s better to build that foundation first, rather than making the request without any lead-up.

If cold reach-outs are intimidating, try reactivating dormant connections. Maybe you know someone from a previous job or your time in college that you typically wouldn’t interact with due to a physical location. Take advantage of the fact that virtual meetings are now second nature to most people. Now is the time to actively seek authentic communication with peers around the globe, thus paving the way for mentorship discussions.

You can increase the likelihood of someone agreeing to be your mentor by personalizing the communication and explaining why their background and work would make them the right fit.

2. Setting the agenda

Once you have a mentor, virtual or not, this is when you can start determining how to make the relationship as effective as possible. If you’ve ever been a mentor yourself, you know you never want to spend an hour talking at your mentee — you want it to be a mutually beneficial, back-and-forth discussion. As a mentee, being proactive in the mentorship means charting each conversation’s course by coming to the table with your own goals and insightful questions. Preparing an agenda outlining discussion topics and emailing it to your mentor ahead of the meeting gives them time to address issues and map out useful guidance thoughtfully.  

Taking this proactive approach can help mentees be more intentional about the discussion, focus on clearly defined goals, and manage meeting time well.

While note-taking during your meetings might seem counterintuitive, it’s a good way to make sure the takeaways make a legitimate impact. Take notes, outline action items, summarize the discussion, and follow up via email to help keep the mentorship relationship on track.

3. Soliciting feedback

Successful mentoring relationships are based on openness and honesty. Be receptive to feedback, and more importantly, ask for it. Asking open-ended questions on specific topics shows a desire to learn and is more effective than asking for general feedback or advice. For example, you can discuss your plans to progress to a new role in two years or how you plan to approach investors and stakeholders with your year-end results. What does your mentor think of your approach? What’s worked for them in the past? Do they spot any red flags or faux pas to avoid? 

Proactively asking for this feedback not only takes you out of your comfort zone but is essential to learning and improving. And, no matter what the feedback is, thank your mentor for the knowledge, insight, and advice.

Ultimately, remember that mentorship is far from passive — it all comes back to proactivity. Now that the virtual doors are open to a broader pool of expertise, be proactive in your role when it comes to seeking out new connections, and elevating your mentorship experience as a whole.