How to be a Mentor – 7 Tips

You’ve been asked to be a mentor. You’re delighted, but have no idea what’s involved!

What does a mentor do? What will the mentee expect? How much time will it involve? What do you need to do to get started? What can you expect from the mentee?

And finally . . . . what’s in it for you?

These are all common questions that people ask when they first step into the role of a mentor.

If you want to know how to get it right first time, read on . . . . .

7 Tips for Establishing an Effective Mentoring Relationship


1. Get to know each other first

Before you embark on the mentoring relationship, take time to get to know each other personally. This doesn’t mean you have to share your darkest, deepest, secrets! Spend time finding out about each other’s careers, interests, experiences and motivators. You may also wish to share a little about your personal life, although this certainly isn’t a requirement of the role!

Knowing each other on a personal, as well as professional basis will really help both people feel comfortable in the relationship.

2. Clarify the purpose of the mentoring relationship

Mentoring relationships are usually, but not exclusively, set up by the organisation to support people to develop and enhance their career potential.

Whilst a great idea, often the reason why mentoring has been chosen and the purpose of the relationship are not explained.

Spending time talking about and agreeing the purpose of the relationship and what you hope to achieve from it will help you keep on track. Remember too that there should be something in it for the mentor as well, not just the mentee!!


3. Agree the groundrules for the relationship at the outset

Agreeing the groundrules for how you will work together will ensure that both parties’ expectations are met. Groundrules might include:

– How often you will meet

– How much time is feasible for the mentor to give to the mentee

– The type of support the mentor is able and willing to provide and the type of support the mentee anticipates they may need (see tip 5 below)

– What you’re both happy to talk about and what would you prefer not to discuss

– The expectations you have of each other about preparing for your meetings and keeping to agreed meeting times

– The ‘rules’ about cancelling scheduled meetings

– How you will handle urgent requests to talk from the mentee.

These are just a few examples of groundrules you could put in place; there may be other groundrules that you and your mentee wish to agree on.

4. Clearly define the responsibilities

The mentee often waits for the mentor to organise everything. This is prone to difficulties as the mentor is most often a senior member of management with calls on his/her time from everyone.

In my experience, the most effective mentoring relationships are ones where the mentee takes responsibility for driving the relationship. This includes:

– setting up a suitable time and place to meet

– putting together an agenda, if appropriate

– being fully prepared before meeting with the mentor

– giving feedback to the mentor on the usefulness of their sessions together

– making realistic requests for additional support and time.

As the mentor, you have responsibility for turning up on time, giving the mentee your undivided attention and keeping your meeting commitments. If you frequently cancel meetings, you send the message that the mentee isn’t important to you.

5. Consider the possible contributions you can make as a mentor

It’s likely that you’ve been chosen to be a mentor because of your knowledge, experience and great people skills! Some of this will be of great value to the mentee; but which parts?

Typical, valuable, contributions from a mentor include:

– organisational experience – providing help on ‘how to get things done around here’

– knowledge of career options – helping the mentee to see all the possible options available to them

– networking – sharing your experience of networking and helping the mentee to work out how they establish their own network

– people skills – providing coaching on managing relationships at work

– life experience – providing support on personal issues and work/non-work challenges

– organisational sponsorship – promoting the mentee’s visibility within the organisation.

Don’t just assume that you know what they need – find out what they need right now and what will be most helpful. Remember, unwanted advice is often heard as criticism!!

6. Agree what you will do if the relationship isn’t working

Despite the best intentions of both the mentor and mentee, it’s still possible that the relationship won’t work for one or both of you. How will you handle this? Be proactive about this possibility right at the start and agree what you’ll do should this situation arise.


7. Help the mentee find other sources of support

Even if the mentoring relationship is a great success, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to help with every challenge the mentee faces. So who else can they count on for support? Helping the mentee to establish other relationships, both within the organisation and externally, will ensure that they have the appropriate support to meet their needs.

Encourage the mentee to become increasingly self sufficient, establishing a network of people that they can turn to for support and, in turn, support.

Finally, the mentoring relationship won’t last for ever. Many mentoring schemes have a defined lifespan – one year, 18 months, maybe two years. If this is the case, at the end of the scheme, make sure the mentee is ready to move on and can find others to support them if necessary. You may both decide that there is value in continuing the relationship beyond the formally defined period. In this instance, it’s worth revisiting the purpose and groundrules as you may need, and want, to make a shift in the way you work together.

For those of you that are about to embark on a new mentoring relationship or perhaps want to re-engerise an existing mentoring relationship, I hope these tips have been useful and help you both to have a fruitful relationship.

We’d love to hear your experiences of being a mentor, or a mentee, as well as tips that you’d like to share. Please do add your comments below.

Posted by Julie Turner

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