How to Maximize Your Mentorship Relationship

Did you know that Oprah had a mentor? Guess who it was? Maya Angelou! THE MAYA ANGELOU! Wouldn’t you have loved to be a part of those conversations? Oprah has said this about her mentor-mentee relationship, 

Oprah Winfrey on Maya Angelou

We agree. Having a mentor is important for personal and career growth. There is research that found individuals who have mentors receive better performance records, advance in their careers faster, and even report better work-life satisfaction. And when the relationship is formed thoughtfully and respectfully, the mentor will benefit too. 

In tech, a mentor can provide the insights and support to help you find the best career path. There are many women who know and remember what it is like to work in a male-dominated field and make it part of their personal goals to “carry as they climb”.  They can help you make the connections and gain the knowledge to achieve your goals.  

Now most of us won’t be lucky enough to find a Maya Angelou as our mentor. That’s okay. It is best to find someone who reflects your life. It can be daunting to find a mentor, and then once you do, ensure the relationship is beneficial. We are here to help. Let’s maximize your mentorship! 

Types of Mentors

First, let’s talk about the different types of mentors. This will help you determine your expectations and outcomes from your mentor relationship and who you should be looking for. 

A traditional mentor provides formal, long-term guidance on career development and work/life balance. In this relationship, it will be up to you to communicate what you need from the mentor.

A coach is someone who will help you learn a skill or navigate a specific life experience, like finding a job, negotiating a job offer, implementing a research project, or starting a business. In general, coaches spend less time with a mentee but could make a significant impact on her life.

A sponsor is a senior-level executive or start-up owner who uses her influence to advocate for and advance mentees in the workplace. A sponsor may not spend much time getting to know you personally but will focus on making connections to further your career. 

A peer mentor is sort of like your work wife. It’s the colleague who can talk you through difficult conversations, hold you accountable on collaborative projects, give you advice in navigating company politics, and listen to you vent. This kind of relationship works best when it is reciprocal. In other words, you are also their peer mentor.  Having that support and collaboration can be a lifesaver for those just starting out.

As mentioned, the type of mentor you need will depend on your desired outcome.

No matter who you choose, it’s important to be transparent about your expectations so you are aligned on strategy. 

Expectations & Outcomes

Think through what you would like to gain from having a mentor. Write down your goals, the steps you think you need to take to achieve them, and how your mentor can help you take those steps. Be specific. Do you need her to introduce you to a certain person or a group of people? Do you need her to help you decide what path to take next in your career? Do you need her to help you manage a difficult work relationship? Do you need her to help you create a business plan for your start-up? These are just a few reasons to find a mentor. It’s important to outline your expectations for the relationship and what you hope the outcomes are. Make sure you can articulate why you need a mentor to help you take these steps.

Create a Profile for your Mentor

Who is your ideal mentor? If you don’t have a specific person in mind, write down the qualities or experience you think your mentor should have that would most help you. 

  • Does she have the job or the career experience you want?
  • Does she have the connections or networking circle you want to join?
  • Has she accomplished something you’d like to do?
  • Is she a good listener? Is she thoughtful in conversations? 
  • Is she approachable and personable? 
  • Has she mentored women in the past? 
  • Does she give good advice or at least seem willing to help others? 

Like all relationships, a successful mentorship depends on the connection between the mentor and mentee. As humans, we don’t connect with everyone. The clearer you are about who your mentor is, the more successful you will be in finding a good one. Keep in mind that as with any other relationship, mentoring is organic and will grow over time based on mutual commitment, respect, and trust.

Where to Find a Mentor

COVID has made networking weird, but we’re tech people! Virtual meetings and online message boards are our thing. So don’t feel like you can’t find a mentor right now because in-person gatherings and meetups are on hold. It is completely acceptable to find a good mentor online. But, you still need to be strategic in how you find her and how you ask. Here are some tips.

Hopefully, you have read our blog on optimizing your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is not only a great job search tool, but it can also be an effective networking tool. Join industry groups and follow companies in your sector. Comment and share interesting posts and articles. Ask to connect with peers in your industry and follow who they follow. Attend events and webinars on LinkedIn. Post on your profile that you are looking for a mentor. Finding a good mentor is all about finding a connection, and that is what LinkedIn was built to do. 

Aside from LinkedIn, check out Slack channels, Reddit message boards, Twitter lists, and other social media platforms where leaders in your sector are interacting. There are also online communities developed expressly to connect mentees to mentors. MentorCruise and GrowthHacker are a couple of them. These sites are usually not free, but they may make your search easier.  You may also find mentors on networking/education platforms like Women in Tech and NPower. 

Don’t forget your own network. You may already know your perfect mentor. Is there someone senior in your company who you would love to work with? Does a peer have a mentor who might be able to suggest someone? Is there someone from school or a previous job that you relied on for advice in the past?

Keep your mentor profile in mind as you search. That will help you narrow the field. Once you find her, the next step is to make the ask. Don’t worry, we’ll talk you through it. 

Popping the Question

It is typically hard for women to ask for help, especially in our careers.  We need to get over that. Everyone needs help at one time or another. Let’s not make it awkward. There is no harm in asking the question. Hopefully, these tips will make it a little easier. 

Do your research. Learn as much as you can about your potential mentor. This will help you craft a thoughtful ask that reflects her work and your expectations on how she can help you.  

Get to know your potential mentor personally first. She may look like a good fit from your research, but you may not connect personally. Have an initial conversation before asking her to be your mentor. 

Prepare an elevator pitch that outlines your goals and why you think she is the right mentor for you. Tell her what you expect from her mentorship and what contribution you will bring to the relationship.  Be clear about the time commitment and how you would like to communicate. 

In general, this type of ask is best done in person. However, because of COVID, video calls are completely acceptable and more effective than a phone call or email. Again, you want to make sure you are aligned and can work together. 

Last but not least, if she says no, don’t be hurt and don’t burn that bridge. We are all very busy and sometimes just don’t have the bandwidth. That does not mean that she may be able to help you in the future. If she says no, thank her for her consideration, and leave the door open for a future relationship.

Take Ownership of the Mentoring Relationship

A good relationship starts with understanding. Your mentor is volunteering her time to help you. Make it plain to her that you appreciate her investment in you, and will do your part to make it worth her time. That means you will handle the logistics. Set up your meeting dates, including the video links. Prepare an agenda that includes goals for each meeting. Be clear on your next steps after each meeting. Stay open to her feedback and suggestions. Document your progress and share it with her at each meeting. Ask for help when you need it, hopefully before your plans start to derail.  Take accountability for setbacks and screw-ups. Show gratitude for her time and assistance at every meeting. Last but not least, return the favor if she asks for feedback or advice. 

Mentoring is a two-way street and should be navigated thoughtfully. When you are intentional about your mentoring relationships and make the most of each other’s time, both of you will reap the benefits of a maximized mentorship. Let’s make sure we are carrying as we climb. 

Join the Lady Bird Talent Slack community or one of our upcoming events to meet other women in tech and start your mentorship journey!

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