Mentors can provide you with valuable advice and knowledge, constructive criticism, friendship and connections to other people and resources that can help you reach your goals. It is likely that you have had a number of positive, influential mentors in your life — whether a college professor, internship supervisor, family member or your first boss. But it’s also likely that you’ve let some of these relationships fall by the wayside over time.
After a mentorship program comes to an end, it can feel significantly harder to maintain the connections you’ve developed. Without facilitated activities or consistent interaction, it’s common to feel unsure about how to move forward. You’ve probably realized that you can no longer drop by your professor’s office hours on a weekly basis after you graduate. Similarly, it’s harder to grab lunch or coffee with your work mentor after you’ve changed jobs or moved to a different city.
But the end of a formal program doesn’t need to be the end of your mentorship. Here are four tips on how to successfully maintain a relationship with your mentor:
1. Determine the best way to communicate. Everyone has a different communication style. Some people might prefer writing and reading emails, while others might prefer to catch up over the phone. Other mentors might prefer to meet in person or through otherwise face-to-face interactions (such as Skype). Some people might prefer receiving shorter messages with more frequency, while others might prefer that you send them a more substantial email every six months. Ask your mentor what he or she prefers as the best way to keep in touch.
2. Commit to regular meetings as best you can, and make them worth your mentor’s while. Having a set structure or schedule can help force you to prioritize your mentor relationship. Set up meetings or times to check in over email or the phone at regular intervals—but be realistic. While your mentor might love to chat with you once a month, this may not always be possible.
To make the most of your meetings, be sure to come prepared. Consider setting an agenda for what you want to discuss, coming with a few questions, or writing down a list of short- and long-term professional goals. While chatting and catching up is fine, you don’t want the entire conversation to be devoid of substantive mentorship.
3. Be flexible. Be cognizant of your mentor’s workload and other life events. Maybe your mentor recently had a child, is finishing an upcoming book or is going through a busy period of transition at work. As things change for both you and your mentor over time, you may find it necessary to adjust the frequency with which you check in or meet in person.
Remember that your mentor is doing you a favor and is volunteering her time and energy to help you. Make sure that the ways you keep in touch remain manageable for both parties.
4. Stay in touch and keep your mentor in the loop. Make the extra effort to reach out to your mentor outside of formal meetings. If you periodically send out email updates about your life to close family members and friends, consider including your mentor. There are also a number of simple ways to interact with and keep in touch with your mentor in a more personal, thoughtful way.
Every so often, you might send an email with links to articles or books you’ve read that you think would interest your mentor. You can also send holiday or birthday cards; invite your mentor to a baseball game, housewarming party, happy hour or other casual social event; share brief anecdotes about how you’ve implemented your mentor’s advice or suggestions; and periodically thank your mentor for supporting you and helping you grow. Above all, keep in mind that mentorship shouldn’t feel transactional — you don’t want to connect with your mentor only when you need a reference or favor.
As with any other relationship or friendship, maintaining a meaningful mentor-mentee connection takes work. Do you have any other tips or personal experiences? Share in the comments below.
For more information on all things professional development, check out all of the NextGen Leadership Program’s blogs here.