Want to be a Mentor? Here’s How | Part 1

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Anyone lucky enough to have a good professional mentor knows how much a mentee can benefit from this kind of connection. But what you may not know are all the ways in which a mentor is bound to benefit from the relationship as well.

Mentoring at its best gives both parties, mentor and mentee, tools to thrive. The process offers everyone involved an opportunity for collaboration, shifting perspectives, and renewing professional motivation. Being a mentor might lead you to a new appreciation of your own career since people generally understand concepts better once they have a chance to explain them to someone else.

If you’re interested in taking on a mentee, but not sure where to begin, we’ve put together some pointers to help you connect with the right mentee for you.

Finding a mentee

The key is to look for someone with whom you have a genuine rapport. You don’t have to be best friends, but you should get along and have enough in common to enjoy spending time together.

You’ll probably meet a promising mentee in the same places you’d normally meet other like-minded professionals, such as:

  • Your workplace. Larger workplaces may have an existing mentorship program, so be sure to check in with the human resources department. Smaller organizations will likely have a less formal structure. Your mentee can be someone you directly supervise, or simply a less experienced colleague whose career goals align with your own.
  • Groups of social-impact professionals. Look for in-person or virtual gatherings of people in your field. If you belong to a professional association or if your workplace is part of one, that’s a good place to start. There are also larger groups encompassing more of the social impact sphere, like the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network and the National Association of Nonprofit Professionals. Search for more local and national groups on Idealist.org to get started.
  • Your college alumni network. Many college websites have search tools where alumni can find others in their field and location. Reach out to a local alum via email; they’ll probably welcome the support, especially if they’re new to the area or profession. Keep an eye out for any school-sponsored alumni gatherings in your town as well.
  • College and graduate programs in your field of interest. The mentor/mentee relationship can take the form of a school-sponsored internship for credit, but be flexible (and creative) as you’ll likely find some students eager to learn outside of a traditional internship program.
  • Education or community-based groups. Any groups to which you belong, including volunteer organizations, can be a good place to find mentees as long as the group is grounded in a common interest.

Giving advice

The specific responsibilities of a mentor will depend on the goals you and the mentee set together. As a rule, you can expect to answer questions, offer constructive feedback, and discuss your own experience. The mentee may “shadow” or observe you as you work. If your field requires expertise in technical skills, the mentorship may include practicing these skills.

Since a mentor also takes on the role of an advisor, here are a few ways that you can provide effective guidance:

  • Keep the mentee’s individuality in mind. Their learning style may differ from yours; this is a great way for both of you to practice adaptability and teamwork. Ask your mentee directly about how they like to learn and be sure to share your own learning style with them so you can think constructively about ways to cater to their preferences and needs.
  • Communicate clearly. Be as specific as possible, whether you’re recommending a strategy to complete a task or describing a lesson you learned on the job.
  • Tell the truth. Combine tact with honesty, and tell your mentee what you think they need to hear, not what they might want to hear. A realistic portrayal of the career field and its necessities may not be pleasant, but it will help the mentee make an informed decision about what to pursue.
  • Monitor progress. Notice where your mentee is excelling and where they’re struggling. You may have to alter the advice you plan to give based on the mentee’s process. Or you’ll need to adjust performance goals—by figuring out a better way to approach a difficult task or increasing responsibility in areas where your mentee learns quickly. This flexibility is an invaluable part of the process.
  • Share your own setbacks. Sharing mistakes and professional setbacks can support mentees in becoming more comfortable and ready to make mistakes since that’s an inevitable part of the job, and life.
  • Model good character. As a mentor you’re far more than a job supervisor. You’re a role model for how to interact with others on the job, not just what skills to perform. Demonstrating compassion, respect, self-confidence, and good decision-making skills can teach your mentee more than you realize.
  • Be willing to be proven wrong. Your mentee may have an idea or ambition that seems unrealistic to you. Don’t discourage them immediately; give the idea some thought. Remember best practices in many workplaces change with the times. Especially if your mentee is younger than you, they may have a fresh perspective on new developments in your field.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post where we’ll explore ways to encourage growth in your mentee by letting them take ownership of the process.

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Have you found a successful mentor/mentee dynamic? What part of the relationship worked best for you?

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Amy Bergen is a writer based in Portland, Maine. She has experience in the social impact space in Baltimore, Maryland, the educational museum sphere in Columbus, Ohio, and the literary world of New York City.
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