Having a mentor isn’t just a cool thing to drop into conversation – it’s also a great way to grow your job skills with someone you admire and respect. It’s fantastic for keeping you accountable and driven to reach your career goals. But your relationship with your mentor is a delicate thing; she’s likely giving her time with you for free, in between her pressurised job and busy personal life.
Not sure how to find a mentor, or why you may need one? Click here to read an article on this first – then come to back this one.
Think you’ve found a mentor? Keep your mentorship relationship healthy and productive by never asking these five not-cool questions:
1 ‘So, tell me everything you know…’
Mentors are typically hot-shot people with hot-shot lives. Which means that they’re busy. Like, super-busy. They don’t have time to overhaul your CV or baby-sit your career. Be specific when you’re asking for a mentor’s help, and don’t approach a potential mentor until you know exactly how they can help you. Things like, ‘I want to learn how to take more risks’ or ‘Show me how you persuade big clients to buy into your projects’ are much better than, ‘Teach me anything and everything’.
Asking for mentoring in a specific area helps your potential mentor understand what you’re asking for their help in, and how they can actually be helpful. It also clearly ring-fences the expectation on them as your mentor, and ensures things stay professional.
2 ‘Can we meet every Friday for the next five years?’
Be realistic! Busy people don’t have time to spend every spare coffee break catching up with you, and most potential mentors simply can’t commit to weekly catch-ups with you until the end of time.
Also, in order to get the most out of a mentor, you need to have a clear set of goals to work through with them, and a clear time frame in which to achieve them. That way, your mentor can be clear about how much time they can give you, and you are challenging yourself to actually make the most of their time by pushing yourself to achieve those goals within a set time period.
If you still want mentorship after that time period is up, reset your goals, create a new timeline and then re-approach your mentor. This isn’t about hanging with the boss; it’s about working together to achieve deliverables. Your mentor will also enjoy the process more if they can see they’re contributing to real, proactive change in your career.
3 ‘Can you get me a job?’
This is a big no-no. Mentors are not recruiters, or your way into a new industry or promotion. If there’s something people hate, it’s feeling used for their connections or know-how, especially if that’s not the agreement upfront.
Sure, a mentor may connect you with key people – but this should happen at their own suggestion, if they want to do this. Again: think clearly about why you’re asking someone to be your mentor in the first place. If it’s to swing a new job through them, think again. But if it’s to better your skills set in a particular area (say, negotiating like a #GirlBoss), and your mentor sees you acing it in this space, they may well make those recommendations organically – and because they’re genuinely impressed with your ability.
4 ‘Hi, I know it’s Saturday, but…’
Wait, what? It’s Saturday and you’re bothering your mentor? You’re on the fastest track to pissing her off, and you’re not showing her the professionalism she needs to see to help you further your career and self-learning.
A mentor typically offers her time and expertise to you for free, and you need to respect this. Instead of WhatsApping her out of work hours, write down your queries and thoughts, and save them until your next arranged time slot with her. You won’t just stop yourself from becoming her biggest annoyance, but you’ll likely impress her by coming prepped with pertinent thoughts and queries when you next meet.
5 ‘How can you help me?’
That’s just not how this thing works, girl. Your mentor is doing you a favour by giving up her time to coach you. Sure, hopefully your mentor will enjoy the process and learn something from you, too, but be clear: she’s helping you, and your mentorship meet-ups should reflect this. So prepare your questions before each meeting, ask pertinent questions that you want her specific input on, and keep these queries within the bounds of your professional relationship. For example, if you’ve asked your mentor to coach you specifically on improving your public speaking, don’t try to sneakily ask her about that high-profile deal she just closed. If she wants to refer to it in her advice to you, cool – but that’s her call, not yours.