A mentor is someone who imparts knowledge, guides mentees professionally and advocates for opportunities. However, a lot more goes into it than just that. Knowing who your mentees are and what they need, establishing a program and ensuring wisdom exchange is done properly can all contribute to the success or failure of a mentorship program.
In our Guide to Mentorship, we’ll explain the different types of mentorship, characteristics of good mentors and outline what a mentorship meeting should look like to ensure everyone makes the most of this valuable connection.
Why Is Mentoring Important in the Workplace?
As many organizations contend with rising resignations and staff turnover, investing in cultural programs like mentorship can help refocus and engage staffers.
So does mentorship work?
Simply put, yes. But it’s important to understand that beyond the impact for mentees, it can have a major impact on your organization, with these kinds of benefits:
- Improves Retention: As more professionals look for a more rewarding experience at work, helping them find identity and engagement within an organization’s mission will go a long way to keep them in place. Additionally, as these professionals gain more experience and knowledge, they can also contribute to the development of that mission.
- Creates a Learning Culture: When discussing what is affecting retention or happiness in your organization, culture will always be one of the key indicators people focus on. While any organization can easily say they have a culture that fosters professional development, having an established mentorship program is proof that learning is part of the fabric of your organization.
- Diversifies Leadership: Mentorship is critical to improving diversity, equity and inclusion. According to the Women in the Workplace study from McKinsey and Company, there is a major gap in diversity in senior leadership – and those same leaders are critical to mentorship success – with 38% of senior-level women mentoring or sponsoring a woman of color. Cultivating and mentoring the next generation of leaders can help boost DEI efforts in your organization.
Types of Mentoring
There is no disputing that mentorship adds value to an organization. However, all organizations are different and finding the method that best compliments your membership and structure is essential.
Formal vs. Informal Mentoring
Think of your parents or a teacher as the original mentor in your life. They are there when you need advice and can help guide you through challenging situations. As you begin your career and aim to advance in an organization, you’ll need that same dynamic.
When looking at mentorship, you’ll find yourself with two sets – formal and informal mentors. The major difference between the two is often going to be the structure of the relationship.
A formal mentor is someone who was likely paired through an organization or coordinator. It has formal rules in the sense of timeframe and commitment and should include specific goals that help determine the success of the relationship. While there will always be a connection and rapport between the mentor and mentee, this connection requires a formal ask and is often more transactional in nature.
An informal mentor is someone who you can go to for guidance. These professionals will often have a general understanding of your industry and role but are not necessarily going to be the ones who help with connections and career advancement. Think of them as someone who can give you feedback on a project or a presentation, but not necessarily as the person who is giving you structured advice on how to improve. There are no set goals or time commitments, but these professionals can act as a sounding board for any challenges you’re facing.
The style that works best will often depend on your goals. It’s also important to note that mentees can have both a formal mentor and an informal connection they seek out for timely advice and guidance, which is why networking continues to be more important than ever.
Top Mentoring Strategies
- One-on-One Mentoring: When it comes to mentorship, the traditional style is one-on-one. Generally, a senior-level professional will be paired with a mentee with less experience. This pairing is either handled by the organization or the mentee has an opportunity to choose who they want to work with. In most cases, this is an exclusive pairing, which means mentors only have one mentee to focus on, ensuring mentees get the most value possible.
- Group Mentoring: For larger organizations with multiple mentors and plenty of mentees with similar interests, opting for group mentorship can have many benefits. These sessions are generally outlined with a more significant lesson in mind for each meeting, i.e., professional development, and are then broken down into cohorts or group work. While it’s handled in a larger group, mentees will still get one-on-one feedback from mentors along with help from their peers, making it a more inclusive environment.
- Reverse Mentoring: Because everyone has a unique set of experiences and points of view, mentors don’t necessarily have to be the most experienced member of your organization. In a reverse mentoring relationship, new hires, interns or junior-level professionals take an opportunity to teach their managers, directors or senior-level members based on their own experiences. This can be a way to introduce modern thinking into an organization or as an opportunity to familiarize staffers with new platforms and programs.
- Micro Mentoring: In some instances, mentees are hyperfocused on developing specific skills or only need help in well-defined areas. When this is the case, mentoring relationships take on a “micro” timeline, generally over a few meetings, allowing mentees to work with multiple mentors to hone the skills they feel are most valuable to professional development.
- Peer Groups: If the focus of mentorship is accountability or professional development, a dedicated mentor is not always needed. Peer groups can be established within your organization to pair up groups of professionals with similar interests or goals in mind. With tools like workshops and exercises, they can grow together and hold one another accountable, which is an essential part of being a mentor.
As COVID-19 changes the way we work and more organizations are opting for a hybrid workplace, another type of mentoring can also become the norm – virtual mentorship. Not only does this remove any potential bias based on geographic or perceived attributes, but it also has a significant benefit – an increase in scope. According to Marianna Tu and Michael Li in a Harvard Business Review article, “Without the limiting factor of geographic proximity, you can expand your pool to make great matches that prioritize shared interests and values over logistics. You might find that by embracing the tools you have, you can build something even more robust than before.”
5 Characteristics of a Good Mentor
Mentors play an important role in professional development at every level. So how do you know if you’ll be a good one?
While characteristics are important, knowing what to do in a mentorship relationship is also key. Because you are actively involved in your mentee’s professional life, avoiding certain behavior can ensure a long-term and successful relationship.
Mentor Dos and Don’ts
- Do set expectations and goals – You should both know what you’re trying to achieve and how long it’s going to take.
- Don’t pretend you know everything – Your mentee chose you because they trust your advice and experience – showing that even you need to do research and connect with others is important.
- Do make introductions – As the popular saying goes, your network is your net worth. Look for connections with pertinent experience and value and make connections for your mentee.
- Don’t ghost your mentee – Mentoring relationships have specific time commitments. Be available when your mentee needs you and be sure to let them know if you’ll be away for an extended period of time.
- Do offer encouragement and advice – While emotional support may not have been popular when you were first starting out, young professional appreciate validation and support. Don’t miss an opportunity to encourage and congratulate your mentee.
- Don’t solve their problems for them – The point of mentoring is teaching. If you resolve every issue your mentee faces, they’ll never grow professional or understand how to face challenges.
Another important “Do” is to be invested beyond the workplace, especially in a post-pandemic world. According to that same Harvard Business Review article, “acknowledging how much our personal and professional lives are intersecting is a powerful basis for any mentoring relationship.” While there should be respect for privacy, the fact of the matter is the lines between work and personal life have blurred. According to the article, “Investing time in meaningful, deep connections with individuals one-on-one can be a refreshing change and a chance for more authentic connection.”
Essentially, the value of a mentor relationship is the connection between you and your mentee. Understanding that factors such as their personal situation and mental health impact their professional life can help you provide more holistic advice that helps beyond the constraints of their career while also strengthening that bond and fostering trust between your mentee.
Finding Your Mentee
For organizations looking for a more traditional approach, manual matching will likely be the go-to. With manual matching, organizations will need to appoint a coordinator who will evaluate staffers. According to an Inc. article, McGraw-Hill has implemented a matching system that “includes a questionnaire, phone interview, and committee recommendation for each mentor and mentee.”
Of course, organizations can also take unique approaches to pairing off mentorship relationships.
In a recent Forbes article, Kull Martens, VP of the Northrop Grumman Management Club, outlined their “speed dating” model. “We had a couple of questions on the table to help them break the ice. We set it up so it was a game for how you got matched. So, you interview with several different people, then rank it.” This informal and fun dynamic has allowed them to take some of the awkwardness out of the interview process while also creating meaningful connections.
Tips for Picking a Mentor
Not all mentorship relationships need to be set by an organizational program. Instead, mentees can take an active approach in their career development and ask someone to be their mentor. A good rule of thumb is asking yourself some tough questions such as:
- Are there skills you feel you’re missing?
- Are there certain people in your industry you’d like to be connected with?
- Do you have a dream job that you need some guidance getting?
- Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
- Is this actually the industry you’re interested in staying in?
This vital information will help you identify, in some aspects, the professional you’re looking to connect with along with your own goals, which will come in handy once the mentorship relationship begins.
Finding a mentor can be difficult, especially with limited experience in your field. This is why it’s so important to be active and well-informed about your industry. Be sure to follow publications and influencers in your industry, as they can often point to subject matter experts that would make for ideal mentors.
From there, the next step is outreach. If you’re in an organization with a set mentorship program, work with the coordinator to connect. When no organizational structure is in place, establishing a connection is the first step.
According to an Asana article on finding a mentor, “before making the mentor/mentee relationship official, start by building a relationship with them. If you know this person, ask to meet for a coffee chat to discuss their career progression and your professional goals.”
Writing a mentor outreach email
For mentees looking to connect with a potential mentor without any previous connection, crafting a solid outreach email is essential. Some of the crucial information you should include is your experience, why you feel they would be a good fit and some background as to why you’re choosing them in the first place.
Dear [mentor name],
My name is [name] and I’m currently a [position]. I’ve been in the industry for [x time] and am particularly interested in pursuing [career goal], and I’ve noticed that’s something you’ve done at [organization].
After reading your recent [book, article, social media post, etc.] I was particularly interested in your insight on [subject matter].
Would you be available for a quick zoom call or coffee meeting this week? I would love to have an opportunity to connect and ask you a few questions about [position or skill].
Looking forward to hearing from you,
Preparing for a Mentorship Meeting
Once the mentor pairing has been completed, it’s time to plan for the meeting. As mentioned above, it’s always recommended to establish a schedule of meetings ahead of time. This offers a set timeframe for any goals or assignments and ensures consistency, which is vital for a growing relationship.
Before the Meeting
While building rapport will likely happen during the meetings themselves, doing your homework ahead of a mentorship one-on-one can help ease that relationship building. Both mentor and mentee should provide pertinent information ahead of the meeting, including resumes, executive summaries, potential talking points and basic goals.
Outside of what your mentee provides, be sure to do some research on your own. Visit their LinkedIn profile, learn about their past experience and any certifications or accolades they may have will help form that initial advice. Also, be sure to have some feedback or specific questions based on their skills and resume – remember, positivity is a valuable trait when building a relationship.
As your mentor is learning about you, you also need to be learning about them. You chose them for obvious reasons, their experience or background. However, this is an opportunity to do a deep dive. Look at their publications or experiences – use this to build specific questions about their background. Also, look at their network. Is there someone you’d like to be introduced to? The more you know, the more conducive the meeting.
During the Meeting
The first mentorship meeting can be awkward, so have some ice breakers ready to go. It’s always good to share some professional stories or an icebreaker that can help relax the mood. From there, it’s time to get to the nitty-gritty.
For starters, it’s essential to set expectations. A mentorship relationship can be a long-term commitment, so both parties should understand that results may not be immediate. However, focusing on a few significant areas can help, including:
Career Goals: The first meeting is about getting to know your mentee. Find out what their goals are in the next 5, 10, or 15 years. Ask about their expectations in terms of career movement and look for opportunities where you can help.
Introductions: An essential part of being a mentor is introducing your mentees to others. While you can simply ask if there are any instructions they would like made, more often than not, they won’t know. Taking the time to understand their experience and goals can help you identify valuable networking opportunities.
Personal Development: You’ve been in the industry for years, and chances are you have skills your mentee has yet to develop. Whether that’s industry-focused training or general skills like leadership, be sure to ask about what they need from you.
Have Questions: Until you build rapport with your mentor, a lot of the work done in your relationship will be based on your questions, so have some good ones. While you should have questions about yourself, such as:
- How can I gain x skill?
- What do I need to do for x job?
- Are there any groups I should join?
You should also be looking for ways to get to know your mentor. Be sure to ask how they got into the industry, the advice they got that helped them grow and what they are looking to gain from being mentors.
Understand Your Needs: This initial meeting will also be the place where you set the tone for your relationship. Be sure to ask how often you’ll be meeting and how (think phone calls, coffee shops, or zoom calls) and how you would both prefer to communicate for routine check-ins.
Set Goals that Work: Goal setting is also a critical part of this initial meeting, and using successful methods, including Google’s goal-setting framework, for example, can help set tangible expectations for goals. All goals should be SMART - meaning they are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. For example, I will gain x certification by the date of our next meeting.
7 Free Goal Setting Worksheets and Templates
A mentor is someone who imparts knowledge, guides mentees professionally and advocates for opportunities. However, a lot more goes into it than just that. Knowing who your mentees are and...Download Now
After the Meeting
Accountability is key to successfully achieving goals, so a lot of the work in a mentorship relationship is tracking success.
For mentors, this means doing the work in terms of identifying potential connections to make. Be on the lookout for networking or volunteering opportunities that can help your mentee. Additionally, being available is critical, so be sure to send weekly or bi-weekly check-in emails to see anything your mentee is struggling with.
After your first meeting (and following subsequent meetings), it’s essential to take notes and track your progress. Work on actionable steps outlined by your mentor and be intentional about journaling. Additionally, be aware of your work life and note situations you would like to improve upon, as these can help form questions for your next mentoring meeting.
Understanding the Power of Mentorship
Investing in staffers and professionals is a long-term commitment that offers a myriad of benefits. Not only is it a way to develop talent that can give back to your organization, but it allows you to add value to the industry as a whole. As career landscapes change and professionals seek a meaningful connection with their work, leveraging mentorship to help them on that journey is more important than ever.
November 15, 2021