Finding a mentor is often spoken about as being one of the best things you could do for your career. Mentors can help you find your direction, overcome new challenges, provide you with a fresh perspective, and so much more.
But before you run to go find yourself a mentor, pause to reflect on these three areas to ensure the career relationship you initiate is as productive and impactful as possible.
Understand the Different types of Career Relationships
Mentor. Coach. Sponsor – Do you know the difference? People often seek out mentorship, without fully understanding the variety of career development relationships and who drives them. Confirm that a mentorship relationship, vs having a coach or sponsor, is most applicable to your needs.
"A coach talks to you, a mentor talks with you, and a sponsor talks about you"
A mentor, whether its formal, informal, or ad hoc, helps you navigate your career and gives advice about career direction, handling situations, and meeting goals. The mentee, you, drive the relationship and the mentor plays a reactive role in response to your career or interest areas.
A coach is much more proactive than a mentor and is possibly a short-term relationship. They enable you to learn new skills (typically soft skills), overcome challenges, and/or improve your performance. The relationship is driven by both parties. You’ll find that companies will hire coaches for their leadership team.
Finally, a sponsor is senior leader or someone with influence who helps you get high-visibility opportunities, promotions, or new jobs. The sponsor drives the relationship by advocating about you to others in different settings. They champion your work to important people.
Ask yourself "what do you want to learn" and remember to be prepared for each session
As we have established, a mentorship relationship is supposed to be driven by the mentee where the mentor is responding/reacting to the needs of the mentee.
To help your mentor support you in the most effective way, be clear about what it is you want to learn or takeaway from the relationship and how they can help you. Of course, life will throw new opportunities and obstacles your way over time but knowing what you want to initially learn puts you on the right track from the get-go.
As each session goes on, preparedness continues to be important. Be sure to at least have a theme or a couple questions to chat about in each meeting. Or if you have nothing specific to talk about in a session, make it clear to your mentor that you just want to chat and connect – there is still value in building positive relationships.
Being prepared for meetings demonstrates that you respect your mentors time and will help your mentor support you in the most efficient way possible.
Some possible themes that you may want to talk to a mentor about are:
- What are different career paths I could explore?
- What skills, both hard and soft skills, are valuable in different roles and how can I build them?
- What opportunities do you know are available to network with different people in the spaces I am interested in?
- How can I position myself for a promotion?
- How to I have a productive difficult conversation?