Mentors are a great way to grow and learn from another’s experiences and can help accelerate your career. There are all sorts of mentoring relationships–formal ones, managers, and even one-sided mentoring (where someone may be a mentor and isn’t aware of that fact). I encourage people to have more than one mentor. All you are doing is simply picking out the best qualities and attributes of an individual and incorporating those things into your style and life. This allows you to learn a lot more, and really see certain things in action. For example, if a person is a great public speaker, you can learn from her by watching what she does, asking her how she prepares, maybe even asking for tips and tricks. Another person might be a fabulous at networking–she knows everyone. You can ask her about how she built her network and how she maintains those relationships. Taking the bits and pieces that you like from each person can help you emulate those aspects and grow in lots of ways.

Sometimes I have found it beneficial to seek someone one or two levels above you (in a corporate setting) and ask them to be your mentor. As a mentee it is your job to maximize the benefits of that relationship and most of all don’t waste your mentor’s time. This means it is your job to set up the meetings, show up on time (punctuality is so important), and bring enough stuff to talk about to fill up the time (I strongly suggest making a list of topics). In these sorts of formal relationships most people have the goal of being promoted to their level or role, and so they can be a great resource to critique you work, tell you about their career progression, and give you advice and perspectives outside of your small team in the organization.

Do not expect a mentor to seek you out. It is your job to find a mentor and demonstrate that you are worthy of such a relationship. This means you need to approach this as you would asking any other associate for a favor. You are asking someone who is probably very busy to invest in your future and give their time to you. Sometimes mentors will say no, either they are too busy, or maybe they don’t want to mentor you (there are lots of reasons for this). However, you can still learn from them by emulating the traits you like and observing them on the job. Don’t take a person’s rejection of your mentor request personal; instead focus on improving yourself since ultimately that will have the most tangible benefits.

So once you have found someone to be a mentor, how do you get the most out of the relationship? I typically meet once a month with my mentees and I almost always expect them to bring questions and essentially set the agenda for the meeting. Sometimes they are questions about my career path and what I have learned along the way, other times they are specific to problems or issues they are facing in their positions. Sometimes they are completely unrelated. It depends a lot on the person. Below is a list of questions I put together (and there are many more, your imagination is the only limit here):

  • What was your biggest challenge when you were in my role?
  • What is your favorite thing about your current role?
  • Describe your career path.
  • Who have been the most influential people in your career?
  • Do you belong to any professional organizations, networking groups, etc?
  • What is the best way to do xxxxx (run a meetings, write a spec, gather requirements, manage someone out of an organization, prepare someone for a promotion, deliver critical feedback, write a test plan, schedule a project, etc.)?
  • How do you manage upwards?
  • I am having problems with xxxxxx how would you deal with this in my position?
  • When should you change/transfer/leave jobs?
  • What is your greatest accomplishment?
  • How do you balance life at work and outside of work?
  • What do you think is the most critical external force affecting our business? (Questions about the company and the role of your group within the company are great ways to learn more about the competitive landscape–something that is important as you move into leadership roles)
  • What is going to be your next step?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
  • What is the best way to manage your career?

Some sounds like interview questions, but remember your goal is to learn as much as you can that will help you be successful. 🙂 Good luck!

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