Career Development

What Is a Mentor?

October 7, 2019

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Investing in a mentor-mentee relationship can be immensely rewarding and beneficial to your career. Mentors can help you gain professional knowledge and develop skills to achieve your personal career goals. Mentors can also provide value by connecting mentees to industry leaders and trends. Mentors can also practice their own leadership and development skills by helping young, less-experienced individuals in their industry.

In this article, we will discuss more details about the dynamics of mentorship and how to get the most out of the relationship.

Read more: Mentor: Definition and How to Find One

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What is a mentor?

A mentor is an individual who acts as an advisor or coach for a less experienced or advanced mentee, providing expertise and professional knowledge from a more experienced perspective.

At the core of the relationship, a mentor is available to their mentee to offer advice, provide support and answer questions. Mentors protect the interests of their mentee. Mentees often learn from this relationship, and mentors frequently benefit from acting as a trusted advisor.

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How can a mentor help me?

Mentors can help you in a variety of ways. Mentors can provide concrete benefits, for example by serving as a reference or sending your resume to companies where you would like to start a career. A mentor can also offer valuable professional advice such as ways to advance in your career, how to improve your resume, interview practice and more. Mentors can answer questions about their field and challenge their mentees to think critically about their career path. Usually established as more seniors members of an industry, mentors are well-situated to help mentees consider their long-term development.

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Types of mentors

While there are a wide variety of mentorship models, a general understanding of three types of mentorship can help you consider what kind of mentor is best for you:

  • Peer mentors are professional colleagues who advise you. For example, a peer mentor may share your role when you start at a new company and can help teach you about the job. Over time, peer mentors might help inform you about job openings or offer guidance about the company culture. Peer mentors tend to check in frequently and often interact in both formal meetings or in social settings like lunch or happy hour.

  • Career mentors tend to be in a higher position than their mentees and serve as career advocates and guides. Career mentors can help their mentees understand where their current role could progress. While career mentors are sometimes their mentee's managers, they can also be based in a different department of the company. Career mentors tend to check in with their mentees on a less frequent basis than peer mentors.

  • Life mentors tend to be at senior stages of a career and can be based within or outside of your current company. Life mentors can offer advice during difficult career decisions, such as helping mentees decide to leave a job or change careers to find a new position. They can also be a valuable source of confidential and unbiased information.

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How to be a good mentee

Each mentor-mentee relationship will vary depending on the individuals involved, their goals and their expectations. There are several ways, however, you can get the most out of your mentorship:

  1. Be engaged and show interest.One of the best ways to be a good mentee is to show genuine interest in your mentor. Ask them about their career and how they got to where they are. You don't need to take every suggestion they offer, but be sure to carefully consider what they say.

  2. Be active in the relationship. Choosing to follow your mentor’s advice will demonstrate that you value the relationship. It also shows that you take your career goals and professional development seriously, which may make them more interested in guiding you.

  3. Practice taking advice and applying it. Be open to observations from your mentor including both positive feedback and constructive criticism. Getting honest feedback from a more advanced professional is extremely beneficial and can help you focus your time on areas you should improve. It can also help you identify strengths of which you might not have been aware.

  4. Be respectful of your mentor's time. Do not reach out to them more frequently than necessary, and make sure to bring specific questions and topics of conversation to your meetings. For example, you might ask how to prepare for a promotion opportunity or how to improve a specific skill. Above all, make sure to express respect for your mentor and gratitude for their time and investment.

Related: SMART Goals: Definition and Examples

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What qualities should I look for in a mentor?

While your needs from a mentor may change throughout your career, there are several constant qualities that you should look for.

  • Compatibility. While it can certainly take time to get to know someone, you might consider looking for a mentor that you genuinely connect with. Make sure to search for people who not only have the professional experience to advise you, but who also share your core values.

  • Diverse perspectives. Mentors can play an important role by offering a new perspective. Be open to working with a mentor who has a different background than your own. These mentors could help you see your career from a new perspective.

  • Trust. You should be able to trust your mentor with confidential information. Although this level of connection may take time to build, look for someone with which you can establish mutual respect.

  • Expertise. Your mentor doesn’t need to be the most senior in the field in order to guide you. Look for someone who has the specific experience and skills needed to help you build your career. A title or number of years in the industry is less relevant than wisdom and knowledge.

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How to be a good mentor

Mentoring can be a valuable and meaningful experience. It provides the opportunity to connect with the next generation of leaders and help junior colleagues to shape their careers.

Every mentor-mentee relationship is different. Nevertheless, there are some points to keep in mind while working with a mentee to help make the experience positive for both people.

  1. Establish expectations. Explain your perspective on your role and what you hope to offer. Tell your mentee about the help you aim to provide, how often you would like to meet, your preferred method of communication and anything else that you feel is important. Be clear about your availability and draw appropriate boundaries.

  2. Listen first, then respond. Focus on the needs and goals of your mentee. Make sure to ask follow-up questions. Consider building a clear understanding of what they are looking for from the relationship before committing to a mentor role.

  3. Provide opportunities. One invaluable form of support you can give to your mentee is connecting them with opportunities and colleagues. Help them to build their professional network by offering to put them in touch with relevant individuals.

  4. Get to know your mentee. Ask your mentee questions about their background, aspirations or how they enjoy to spend their time. Getting to know them as a person is a great tool for offering well-tailored advice.

Read more: How to Find a Mentor

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The benefits of mentoring

While mentees benefit most obviously from mentorship, the relationship can bring personal and professional value to mentors as well. Serving as a mentor can improve your professional networks and reinforce your skills and knowledge. If you are in a senior position, acting as a mentor can connect you with information and trends that you may be unaware of. Serving in a mentorship role can offer fulfillment as you provide help to others in the same way you may have received support early in your career.

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