We often think about mentoring, and, in fact, I often write about effective mentoring for Diverse. But what about the other side? Last week I was asked to speak to a group of alumni and students at Penn about mentoring. I did, but I added a section to my talk on how to be a good mentee or how to make the best of a mentoring relationship. I thought I’d share it with Diverse readers.
Mentees should have multiple mentors for the various aspects of their personal and professional lives. I suggest having someone you can relate to in terms of race and gender (especially if you are a person of color or a female). I also suggest having someone who holds you accountable and acts as a moral compass. It’s great to have a professional mentor, but having a personal mentor who always tells you the truth is vital. And, lastly, I suggest having a peer mentor who acts as a sounding board for your ideas and vice versa.
Mentees need to take care of their mentors and be the best mentees they can be. I suggest fully engaging your mentor relationship. Make your mentor proud of you! I try to make all of my mentors proud by doing the best work I can at all times.
Mentees also need to follow through on commitments. You need to keep appointments and if you can’t let your mentor know ahead of time. Your mentor’s time is very valuable (as is yours) and you don’t want to damage the relationship by making the mentor feel taken for granted. Be on time and follow through—that’s called being professional.
Mentees need to give to the mentor/mentee relationship. You don’t want to just take. Relationships always go both ways. Volunteer to help your mentor on a project. Ask to be involved in his or her work. And then do a great job! This is the best way of demonstrating the caliber of work that you are capable of doing to your mentor and will hopefully lead to a better letter of recommendation in future years.
Mentees should not underestimate or take for granted the level of influence of their mentor. What I mean by this is that you don’t drop one mentor for another because you assume he or she has more connections and influence. You are probably wrong and in the end you will hurt your reputation. I’ve seen people do this and it never results in a good situation. Value and add to what you have.
Mentees need to keep in mind that they are not the only mentee in their mentor’s life. If the mentor takes a few days to be back in touch, it’s typically because he or she is busy. And, don’t you want your mentor to be busy—out there making things happen—so that you can learn from these experiences? Remember not to be too self-focused. Those who are asked to be mentors are typically asked by many people and as such they may not be able to email back in three minutes.
Mentees need to be open to constructive criticism. The reason you have a mentor is to guide you, help you grow and do better in your personal and professional life—so listen to them! You don’t have to do everything your mentor says, but take the time to listen very carefully. Don’t pretend you know everything. Ask questions, even those that you think are silly and ridiculous. The smartest people I know ask questions and admit when they don’t know something. I always admire people who can admit to not having heard of the latest book or not knowing what a trendy word means. Once they ask, they are in the know!
Overall, I advise mentees to cherish their mentor relationships and hold on to them as long as they can. I consult my mentors weekly—still.