10 Tips for Getting the Most from Your Mentor

How can a mentor improve your business and career advancement? Many ways: A mentor can guide you, take you under his wing and teach you new skills. Research has shown that mentoring relationships succeed and are satisfying for both parties when both the mentor and the person being mentored take an active role in developing the relationship.

Here are 10 tips you can implement to ensure you get what you need out of the relationship.

  1. Be clear on why you want a mentor and why you are meeting.
    Define what type of help you’re looking for in a mentor. Are you looking for someone with similar skills or someone with a very different skill set who can coach you? Are you looking for someone who has gone up the corporate ladder and can advise you on the ins and outs of corporate politics?
  2. Establish goals for the relationship.
    Discuss and agree upon the goals of the relationship and what you, personally, are doing to make it a successful venture. Review these goals from time to time to be sure the relationship is working; if not, adjust and refocus.
  3. Network, network and network to find a suitable mentor.
    Once you decide on the type of mentor you need, participate in functions and professional associations where you might find this type of person. For example, scour your chamber of commerce events, alumni and professional associations or even your owncompany. If you do choose someone from your own firm, it’s best to select someone other than your direct supervisor.
  4. Don’t limit yourself to one mentor.
    You can establish multiple mentoring relationships with individuals who can help you grow in different aspects of your life. Think of it as building your own personal board of directors. Also, don’t underestimate the value of a ‘peer mentor’ or someone at your level who has complimentary skills and experiences — even if you think you’re on the same level, you can learn a lot from their previous experiences.
  5. Establish communication methods and frequency of contact from the beginning.
    Talk with your mentor to determine the lines of communication that will work for both of you. Will you meet face to face or communicate mainly through e-mail and the telephone? Make sure you meet/talk enough to suit both of you.
  6. Manage expectations and build trust.
    Mentoring takes time and implies sacrifices for both the person being mentored and the mentor. Be respectful of your mentor’s time and the other priorities in her life, such as family, travel and community activities. Avoid any trust-breaking behaviors such as canceling appointments or not following through on leads and contacts given to you by your mentor.
  7. Acquire mentoring skills and competencies.
    Pay attention to great skills that you notice in your mentors; these skills include listening, guidance, recommendations and wisdom. When you receive corrective feedback from your mentor, don’t be defensive. Listen, digest and take immediate steps to apply what you have learned.
  8. Be respectful of your mentor’s time.
    Do not overburden him by demanding too much time or too many contacts. Understand that the moment you decide you need information might not be the best time for him, so be patient.
  9. Express your gratitude.
    Your mentor is likely to give a lot more than you do in the relationship in terms of time and contacts. Be sure to express regularly that you value and appreciate your mentor’s guidance.
  10. Vary the activities you do together.
    There are numerous activities you can do with your mentor, such as talking about your past experiences, goals, plans, and skill development and attending meetings, conferences, and other events. You can also shadow your mentor at work or exchange and discuss written materials like your resume or an article one of you has written.
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Networking Is Your Status Update Still ‘Looking for Work?’

Networking

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of status updates on business and social networking sites that say things like, “Project Manager professional looking for work” or “Looking for work in a tough economy” or “Just received my degree in accounting — looking for work.” While I understand that these job seekers are trying to advertise their candidacy online, I don’t recommend broadcasting this specific message in your status updates. Here’s why:

  1. Blasting this message to your entire network makes you look desperate. You might as well rent a billboard to promote your job search … Yes, I know there are stories about people landing a job this way, but these tactics get old fast. (And by the way, the guy who landed a job by wearing a sandwich board saying he was looking for work is “so 2008.”)
  2. Posting this message makes people in your network uncomfortable. Imagine agreeing to meet someone for coffee and before the coffee is even cool enough to drink you say, “I’m looking for work.” It’s awkward. It places an unrealistic expectation on your contacts to come up with a solution for you. The same thing happens online when you announce that you are looking for work.
  3. Sending this message leaves you little wiggle room for a follow-up message. Think about it. If you are still in a job search next week, what will your status update be? “Still looking for work” isn’t going to cut it.

Status updates on business and social-networking platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn are a way for you to build rapport with a community and deepen the relationship with your contacts. Choose messages that showcase your expertise, share valuable information, give kudos to others or broadcast an exciting endeavor you are working on (even if it is volunteer work). Here are some examples of alternative status updates you might want to adapt for your situation:

For a fundraising executive:

  • “Volunteering at the American Cancer Society walkathon on Sunday; hope to raise more than $2M.”

 

For an HR professional: 

  • “Attending a seminar on compensation plans for 2009 and beyond at (share the link)”

For an advertising professional: 

  • “My colleague, John Smith, just landed a major account with a leading luxury goods company. Way to go, John!”

For a CIO: 

  • ”Reading an interesting article on new technologies in health care at (share the link)”

For a financial analyst: 

  • “Boning up on study materials for the CFA Level II exam … looks like it’s going to be a long night!” 

Create status updates that invite questions and further conversation, not ones that make your network run for cover. Remember, online networking, like face-to-face networking, is a process. Whenever possible, give before you get and you will be surprised how quickly you get something back in return.