Best Practices for Choosing a Professional Mentor

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I’ve been fortunate to have a kick@$$ mentor here at SHIFT and while with my former employers in the sports communication field. This mentorship has proven invaluable to me as a young professional. In fact, I’ve come to see my mentors as friends in many respects, too.

I recently found myself on my soapbox talking up the mentoring experience with a fellow SHIFTer who was looking to take advantage of the Agency’s program. Since I’ve gained so much from my personal experiences and knowing that SHIFT places such a premium on professional mentoring, I wanted to share some best practices for others searching for a mentor.

Who better to offer these tips than our Learning & Development Coordinator, Kristina Norris, who oversees our mentoring program and serves as a mentor herself. Check out our conversation below to discover how to not only find the right mentor for you, but how to make the most of the experience as well.

Why is having a mentor so important to your professional growth?

A mentor can provide additional professional development outside of your daily tasks and team members. A mentor is someone who has more experience in the career path you’re attempting to navigate and can provide you with unbiased guidance or perspective on professional matters.

When is it appropriate to begin seeking out a mentor at your workplace?

Many organizations would encourage you to start considering selecting a mentor after 90 days. For me, the timeline is less important and the focus should be on making sure the mentoring relationship dynamic doesn’t feel forced and is mutually beneficial. If you start at a new organization and immediately click with someone who is willing to take you under their wing, then test it out. Your mentor should be able to provide you the support and guidance you’re looking for in working toward your goals. Here are three questions you should be discussing from the start to ensure you’re both on the same page and that it will be a successful mentoring relationship:

  • During the next six months to a year, what do you want to learn or achieve?
  • How often would you like to meet and in what kind of setting?
  • What are some ways you like to learn and we can learn from each other?

Should you have multiple mentors in mind in case your first choice cannot make the commitment?

Definitely. As I mentioned before, you can’t expect others to be willing to take on the time investment that can go into mentoring another person. Work/Life balance is important to us here at SHIFT, and while someone might want to bring on a mentee, they might have too much going on or your schedules may just not sync up. Never take it personally!

What should you look for in a mentor?

You should already have the goals and skills you would like to improve on in mind before selecting a mentor. If you’re looking for feedback on what is preventing you from moving up within your organization, you might want to reconsider before reaching out to a mentor from a different department who has no insight on the competencies your role requires for promotion. However, if you’re working on how to improve your leadership or management style, reaching out to a senior leader from any part of the organization might provide you with a unique and valuable perspective.

How often should mentoring sessions take place?

This depends on what works best for both the mentor and mentee. From the start, both parties should discuss the type of relationship and time commitment they’re comfortable with as they work toward growth and development. Mentees are then responsible for maintaining the mentoring momentum, which also means that the meetings don’t always have to be formal; grabbing lunch or coffee or scheduling a walking meeting are always great alternatives. Outlining these details from the outset will set you up for success in the long run.

What types of things should a mentor and mentee discuss?

At the beginning of the mentoring lifecycle, it can be helpful to cover topics that allow you to look inward. For example, sharing personal interests, strengths and weaknesses, helpful learning experiences and professional hurdles you’re working to overcome can be a great way to get to know your mentor or mentee and assist in identifying proactive approaches for addressing specific challenges. Keep in mind that a mentor is meant to be an advisor – not your therapist. Discussions should be reflection based and involve mutual sharing with a focus on implicit professional growth tactics that tie back to the goals that helped establish your mentoring partnership.

Are there any major do’s and don’t’s when it comes to working with your mentor?

Do:

  • ​Have the courage to step out of your comfort zone and set expectations early on about your objectives and goals for the mentoring partnership.
  • Demonstrate your openness to feedback & learning.
  • Listen carefully to your mentor’s advice and ask thoughtful questions.
  • Take time to consider and incorporate the insights that make sense for your career.
  • Never forget that you are fully responsible for your own development.
  • Respect your mentor’s time and other responsibilities.

Don’t:

  • Be defensive when receiving feedback or advice.
  • Hold your mentor responsible for your growth.
  • Refrain from asking questions because of their reputation or position; this will waste both time and energy for both of you.
  • ​Let your mentor dominate the discussion or meeting.​​​​ Take the initiative to discuss what is occupying your mind and examine your thoughts and concerns
  • Be judgmental of your mentor’s experiences or choices; they are being open minded about you!
  • Don’t impose expectations that are an imposition or are beyond what is reasonable

What can mentees offer in return to make this a mutually beneficial experience?

Mentors should be using this experience to build on their leadership, active listening and coaching skills. Mentees can give back to their mentor by sharing the issues they’re facing at a more junior level or by simply reflecting together on the advice that has made an impact on the mentee’s growth and the reason behind it. Sometimes being challenged on perceived wisdom can provide professionals at any level with the opportunity to reevaluate and identify new strategic approaches to ongoing issues.

What advice would you give to young professionals who are too early on at their company to join the mentor program or whose company does not have a mentoring program in place?

Driven professionals can naturally foster mentoring experiences by accepting help from experienced coworkers and industry professionals and by consciously taking advantage of this informal development opportunity. It’s your responsibility to learn by asking thoughtful questions, researching and requesting feedback, even if it’s in the moment or following up the next time you run into them. Keep in mind that it’s easy to stunt your professional development if you’re coming across as defensive or presume that you know all of the answers from the start!

Zach Burrus
Marketing Analyst

Photo Source: StartUp FASHION

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Posted on August 6, 2015 in Agency Life, Professional Development

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