At various levels the federal government, there are structured, comprehensive career development (or mentoring) programs, like the Presidential Management Fellowship Program. Your agency might have its own version, but mentoring can be far less informal and structured, so long as it benefits both sides.
If you are considering becoming a mentor to a new employee, or if you have been asked to do so, here are some tips to get you started:
- Consider what type of mentor you will be: If your agency does not have a structured program, or if you’ve been asked to act as a mentor on an informal basis, there are a few different types to choose from. Will you be providing career guidance? Or will you be mainly an information source for your mentee? How about a friend who helps the mentee navigate people within the agency and spends time with him or her socially? Or, do you see you and your mentee as equals, i.e. will you partner together on projects and help each other with overcoming various obstacles? What form you choose will depend mainly on the goal of the relationship (see #3).
- Conduct a self assessment: Sit down and think about your strengths and weaknesses, and what you’ll bring to the mentoring relationship. What are you most/least knowledgeable about? What are your best/worst attributes? What are your current responsibilities? What did you do in previous positions? What doesn’t interest you or what are you not interested in helping your mentee with? What do you think your primary contributions to the relationship will be? The answers to these questions will be beneficial as you structure your mentor-mentee relationship.
- Set a goal: Plenty of mentor relationships fail because they don’t have clearly defined goals. Obviously, your mentee wants to get something out of the relationship, and it’s likely that you do as well. If the person you are working with is new to government, is he or she hoping your relationship will assist with career moves? Or navigating the world of government? And what about you? Are you looking to pass on knowledge for when you eventually retire? Or are you hoping to gain a like-minded co-worker? During your initial mentor meeting, discuss the goals of your relationship, and put them in writing. Then revisit them periodically to ensure that the relationship is progressing as expected and is still proving beneficial for both sides.
- Set expectations: Along with setting goals, it is important to set expectations with your mentee. If he or she is hoping that you can help with a promotion or important connections, be clear about your position or your limitations. As your relationship progresses, try not to offer advice on areas you are unfamiliar with; instead, connect your mentee with someone who might be able to help. Don’t be offended if your mentee determines that, based on his or her goals, you aren’t the right mentor.
- Map out your relationship: With your goals in mind and expectations addressed, develop a plan for your mentoring relationship. This can include how often you’ll meet, how you’ll connect, how long your relationship will last, and what is expected of each person. This is another tool that you’ll want to revisit on occasion because it will likely change.
- Be flexible and accessible in your communication: It is typical that when you envision mentoring, you see two people meeting face-to-face on a regularly scheduled basis. But nowadays, it doesn’t have to be like that. You can engage in e-mentoring (or virtual mentoring), where your conversations occur mainly through e-mail, Skype, text message, or chat. Do what works for you and your mentee to help keep the relationship strong.
- Be kind, patient, flexible, and willing to listen/learn: Remember that your mentee is likely new to the federal world, and it can be vastly different than any previous experience he or she might have had in the public sector or in school. Be willing to assist your mentee with seemingly mundane tasks or questions, and remember that you were once in his shoes. If your mentee has ever-changing goals or requests, try to work together to determine the true reason behind the relationship and what the mentee really wants. And finally, you are likely the more experienced person in the relationship (unless you have entered a peer mentoring program), but that doesn’t mean you know everything. Your mentee might be able to teach you a thing or two, and you should be willing to listen and take the advice when necessary.
- Other forms of mentoring: While the above points deal with the more traditional one-on-one, longer term mentoring, there are a variety of forms your relationship can take that might better suit your goals. These include:
- Flash mentoring, in which you meet once with your mentee, who uses this time (typically one hour) to seek guidance and learn from your experiences. At the end of this time, you can decide to move into a more traditional mentor relationship, or you can decide to meet on an as-needed basis for additional flash sessions.
- Speed mentoring: Much like speed dating, this type of program is generally set up by your agency or a professional organization in which you’re involved. You’ll meet with many people in a time-constrained environment, and both parties at the table will be able to share their advice and experiences.
- Group mentoring: If your experience might benefit more than one person, or you’re more comfortable in a group setting, you can mentor a variety of similar people at one time. One benefit of the group setting is that there are a variety of experiences and advice that the mentees can share with one another.
- Situational mentoring: Like flash mentoring, this is a one-time occurrence in which your guidance and expertise is requested by the mentee to assist with a current situation. This setup can be a product of a traditional mentoring relationship once the mentor and mentee have determined that regular meetings are no longer necessary, or it can evolve into a traditional mentoring relationship.