January is National Mentoring Month. Who knew?
According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, “National Mentoring Month is an annual, high-profile campaign to draw attention to the need for more volunteer mentors to help America’s young people achieve their full potential.”
In the federal government, mentoring programs abound, with different departments and agencies experimenting with approaches such as brownbag lunches featuring “flash mentoring” on hot topics or using a speed-dating approach to offer situational mentoring for individuals seeking advice on a specific problem. Most agencies also offer traditional programs that look to establish one-to-one mentoring pairs for conversations that can range from weeks to years.
Some weeks ago, I wrote how my experience taught me that a mentor is no longer just a nice thing to have, but a requirement for navigating a successful career. But how does one get the most out of their mentor? Here are some steps to maximize your menteeship.
First, decide what you are looking for in a mentor. Are you looking for expert advice to help advise you in a technical aspect of your job – someone who can identify resources or training opportunities for you? Or, do you want a sounding board to help you with the next step in your career? Do you want someone who actively sponsors you, opening doors and helping to build your network? Not all mentors are alike or will be willing or able to play all of these roles. Knowing what you want at the beginning will help you to identify the right mentor and set expectations.
Second, decide how you want to introduce yourself. Explaining why you are seeking a mentor is a good place to start. You may also want to share a copy of your resume as a way to explain how your career has evolved. You can also talk about your interests and passions or even jobs or experiences that didn’t work out. A good mentor will listen more than talk and ask good questions that make you stop and think.
Third, have one-two goals in mind for your mentoring conversation. These goals can evolve over time and do not have to be accomplished in a single session. Some programs require mentoring pairs to develop formal action plans while others may allow things to develop more organically. Having a few goals in mind helps to bring focus to your conversations and to measure progress over time.
Fourth, in the context of a successful mentoring relationship where your level of trust is high, you may decide to ask your mentor to help you address deeper issues. These may involve candidly assessing your strengths and weaknesses or working through a particularly challenging or sensitive work-place issue. A mentor who brings an outside perspective (someone who is outside your chain-of-command or even outside your organization) may be able to create for you a safe, fully confidential and non-judging atmosphere in which you take on some hard issues.
Fifth, make a commitment to yourself and to your mentor that you want to maximize your menteeship. Keep appointments and deliver on follow-up actions that you discuss with your mentor. And don’t be afraid to hold your mentor accountable for commitment she makes to you. A good mentor will want to be a partner to you – and the best partnerships are those based on a shared commitment.
What happens if you find that you are not getting what you want from your mentor? Remember most mentors are volunteering their time and want to be helpful. Even more, they want you to be successful. A seasoned mentor will not be offended if you decide that things are not working for you. If you are not connecting or find the advice you receive as irrelevant or unhelpful, a candid conversation that lets your mentor know this is actually good for both of you – even if you have to struggle for the right words.
More likely will be the case when your mentor helps clarify your thinking, identifies helpful resources, offers you a new perspective or a new way to approach a problem. Then the words will be much easier to find. Start with, “Thank you.”
Neil A. Levine is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.