Building Effective Mentoring Relationships

Posted by Phokham O'Connor and Nikki St.Martin

Mentorships can play a valuable role in all stages of your professional journey. Whether these relationships are developed through formal programs or more casual arrangements, gaining insight and perspective from mentors who excel in certain areas, have navigated similar situations or have overcome comparable challenges is invaluable. Mentorships can provide you with the clarity and confidence you need to make pivotal career decisions, take on new responsibilities or build key skills.

However, while most professionals understand the potential impact of mentoring relationships, many do not know where to begin. The remote environment creates an additional hurdle, as these relationships must be created virtually and with more intentionality. Here are a few best practices for building effective mentoring relationships that can help propel your career.

goalUnderstand Your Goals

Before you reach out to potential mentors, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what you want out of the relationship. Set yourself up for success by focusing on one or two key areas at a time, rather than overwhelming yourself with too many goals. Are you a new manager, hoping to gain guidance for leading a team? Are you determining the next step in your career and seeking insight from those who have been in similar situations? Is there a certain soft skill you’re hoping to develop? Or perhaps you are vying for a leadership role and weighing how to position yourself. There are numerous reasons to seek out a mentor. Make sure you can articulate your needs and what you are hoping to accomplish as a result of the relationship.

Find the Right Mentor

mentor selectionWith your goals in mind, think of individuals who possess the knowledge and experience to help you achieve them. If your organization has a formal mentorship program, ask how you can participate. If no formal program is available, you’ll need to be more proactive in creating your own mentorship opportunities.

As a general rule, you’ll want a mentor who will provide an objective point of view (not a current supervisor). You may want to reach out to someone you admire within your organization who is particularly skilled in a certain area. Consider individuals you worked with at past companies or peruse your alma mater’s alumni network. If you are active on LinkedIn, explore connections whose perspective you value. Most professionals have had mentors in the past and are willing and open to paying it forward.

Foster a Valuable Partnership

Successful mentoring relationships take work and dedication. Make sure both you and your mentor are committed to the process and aligned on the relationship’s parameters. For instance, if you are seeking advice on breaking into a certain field or making a lateral move, you may not need to meet with a mentor on a regular basis. It could be as informal as asking the individual if you could buy them coffee and ask questions about their own experience. On the relationship2other hand, you may need to build a longer-term relationship when positioning yourself for a promotion or navigating office dynamics. In more formal situations, you may ask to meet every month or so and establish specific milestones you’re hoping to hit.

Set realistic expectations with yourself and your potential mentor, while respecting their time and other commitments. Let them know why you are seeking their insight and what you are hoping to get out of the relationship. Recognize their role as a mentor is to inspire, guide and advise, not to tell you what to do.

Adapt to the Virtual Environment

In most relationships, meeting face-to-face is invaluable. While it may not be possible for you to meet with your mentor in an office environment, consider how you can strengthen your relationship in the remote landscape. Try to meet on video to better gauge facial expressions and body language. If you live near one another, suggest meeting for a physically distanced walk or coffee. Additionally, consider using the virtual environment to your advantage and connect with individuals outside of your immediate geographic area.

quote-2Leverage Mentorships Throughout Your Career

While mentorships commonly occur between a more junior mentee and a more experienced mentor, their value is not limited to young professionals. Continually seek out mentors as you progress within your career and allow the dynamics to shift based on your current needs. More seasoned professionals can also benefit from peer mentorships and reverse mentorships to better connect with younger generations or gain insight from someone going through similar experiences. At the same time, micro-mentorships, which are short-term arrangements with a highly focused purpose, can help give you the confidence you need to make difficult decisions or take calculated risks down the road. Continue to seek out and build these relationships throughout your career.

No matter their format, mentorships should be a key component of your overall professional development strategy. Clearly define your goals, seek out individuals you trust and admire, and commit to the process in order to be most effective. For more remote professional development best practices, view this recent post.