Throughout my career I have had many mentors. Most of my favorite mentors were female, probably because I could relate to them better and it helped me envision my own career path. But I have had male mentors who made a huge impact on my career also. What made some mentors stand out from the others for me were their career success, their working relationship with me, and their personality.
Most of my mentors were technical mentors assigned to me by my bosses to train me in a new position. When you are assigned a mentor by your boss you don’t always get the kind of natural open relationship you might have with a career mentor you selected yourself. Here are my top 5 tips for how to choose a mentor:
- Conversation is easy – If you want someone you can go to for advice then it has to be someone who is easy for you to talk to. Find someone who makes you comfortable and conversation just flows when you’re together.
- You work well together – If the conversation is easy chances are you also work well together, and this is also important. Hopefully you can find a mentor where you see eye to eye on how to approach technical and career challenges.
- They have something to teach you – A mentor needs to be more than a friend. You want someone who knows more than you about that something you are being mentored on. Maybe you want to start a family soon, so you look for a mentor who is at the same stage in her career, but she is already a mom. She can mentor you on how to be a working mom. Or if you want to become a manager one day, find a manager or supervisor who you get along with to mentor you.
- They have a career you admire – Along with having something to teach you, the mentor should also be on a career path that aligns with your goals. You can learn how they have navigated the corporate world to get to where they are today in their career.
- They are well-regarded by co-workers and supervisors – Pick a co-worker or supervisor who everyone likes, respects and admires. Having a likable colleague on your side is always a good thing.
Since I have been mentored many times in my career, I have learned how to be a good mentee. Here are my top 5 tips for how to be a good mentee:
- Be respectful of your mentor’s time – If your mentor is someone you admire, it’s probably because they are very good at what they do. Which means they are probably very busy! If they’ve agreed to mentor you then they are willing to spend time with you, but be respectful of their time and don’t pester them more than necessary.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions – Ask your mentor about your work assignment, career path, and family. Maybe you have a separate mentor for each topic, but the point of a mentor is to help you grow so don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions!
- Listen to and act on their advise – You’re asking your mentor lots of questions and they’ve spent their valuable time with you answering your questions. Use their answers and put them into action! You will make both your mentor and yourself proud by acting on the skill they taught you as soon as you can.
- Help your mentor – Ask your mentor what you can do for them. Do they need your help on a big project, feedback on a presentation, someone to vent to about work or family? Maybe they need someone to talk to too, so take some time to provide an open ear for them occasionally too.
- Be grateful – Don’t forget to say thank you and show your appreciation to your mentor for their help! Buy them a coffee occasionally, write them a thank you note or email if they did something very helpful to you, and don’t forget to say thank you with a smile after each interaction.
I was never fortunate enough to mentor other engineers. My husband, on the other hand, has mentored many engineers throughout his career. At our previous company, as in many companies, early career engineers rotated through different teams for 3-6 months and had to be provided projects to work on during that time.
My husband is often chosen to mentor these early career engineers. From working in the same office as him for many years, I know that he is well-regarded and sought-after by mentees, so I asked him for advice on how to be a great mentor. Here are his top 5 tips for how to be a good technical mentor:
- Treat your mentee with respect – From the first day, show the mentee you’re excited for them to be a part of your team.
- Encourage your mentee to see bigger picture – Take the time to tell them what you work on and how their work will be value adding to the project.
- Introduce your mentee to other teams you work with daily – Be sure to include them in meetings with co-workers and stakeholders.
- Give a challenging project – Provide the mentee with interesting and challenging work so at the end of your time mentoring them they can feel a sense of accomplishment.
- Take your mentee to the field – Get them away from the computer and out to the field or site where the work actually takes place so they can see where their project will have impact.
I hope these tips are helpful to you if you are seeking a mentor, currently being mentored and/or are mentoring someone. Do you have any other tips that I didn’t list here?