Serving as a mentor can be one of the most satisfying experiences of your professional life. It’s fulfilling to guide another person and help them develop in their career. Mentoring someone helps them get to the next level in their career. It may even prompt them to take a new direction they’ve never considered (or thought possible) before.
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What does a mentor do?
Every mentor-mentee relationship is different, but it should not be the same as a manager has with a direct report. Mentors should help mentees with big-picture thinking, not focus on short-term tasks and goals the way a manager would. Mentors need to be able to take a step back and evaluate a mentee objectively, not as an employee they’re relying on to complete a project, but as a person with untapped potential whose career they can help shape.
Practically speaking, mentors and mentees should meet at mutually convenient times, and regularly enough that you are able to build a strong, respectful relationship. If you work for the same company, try leaving the building and going to a nearby coffee shop or lunch spot — physically leaving the workplace can help mentees unplug from their daily routine and give them the mental space to think bigger. Take the time to listen to your mentee and really get to know them, not just by their words but also their body language. Do their eyes light up when they talk about working on something they’re passionate about? Do they seem discouraged when describing a difficult situation? When you spend more time listening than talking, you can discover things about a person that they might not have realized themselves, and that insight can better help you guide them.
As a mentor, you can not only help your mentee create goals but also help them develop the skills to get there. If you work at the same company, invite them to meetings that they otherwise might not be included in, which can expose them to unfamiliar areas of the business. It can also help them develop strong working relationships with key people in the company.
Whom should you mentor?
The person you mentor should be someone you respect. You have a good rapport with them. Ultimately, they should be someone in whom you see potential and whose career you want to nurture. After all, if you’re going to invest this much time, the two of you need to get along! What this person does not have to be, however, is someone on the same career track as you, with exactly the same background and interests. They also don’t have to be significantly younger than you, as in the traditional mentor-mentee relationship. A mentee isn’t an apprentice you’re training to do your job one day, they’re a person you’re helping take their career in whatever direction is right for them.
An important thing to remember is that the mentor-mentee relationship goes both ways — you’re not the only one who has lessons to share. As you help them develop new skills, take the opportunity to learn from them, too. It’s also a good idea to have your own mentors, or a network of people in your life who can give you advice and guidance. It’s never too late to pursue your own career goals.