Why have a mentor?
Wherever you are on your career journey, from starting a PhD to your first permanent academic post or to taking those initial tentative steps as a manager, other people have been there before and are often willing to share their valuable advice and insight. They understand (and remember) your excitement, concerns, fears and the inevitable mistakes that you will make as you learn and develop. Whatever stage you are at there is much to be gained from building a relationship with a mentor.
How to make sure mentoring is successful?
Mentors are often busy people, and if they have offered to give up their time and experience then be conscious of that by preparing thoroughly for your meeting. Be up front with your mentor about what you hope to gain from the relationship, but be realistic too. A mentor is not there to solve your problems for you. Instead, they will give you space to explore the issues, to share their experiences, and to give suggestions on how to move the situation forward. You do, however, have to be willing to listen, as well as talk, and to be open to your mentor’s questions and approach that may well challenge your current thinking and ideas.
What should I ask my mentor?
In the first meeting with your mentor it is always useful to learn more about their background, as this will help you to understand the journey they have made. You can start the discussion with these types of questions, and remember to ask yourself what you can learn from your mentor’s insights:
- What has been their career path?
- What have been the highlights, and what have been the challenges?
- What would they do differently?
- What advice would they give to someone starting out on this career path?
If you are able to meet on a regular basis with a mentor, then use the opportunity to get advice and ideas on situations you are finding challenging, or to get guidance on how to develop your own career path. Consider asking these types of questions:
- How have they dealt with challenges like this in their own career?
- What did they learn from dealing with challenges like this?
- How else could you look at the issue?
- What is their feedback on the approach you are currently taking?
- What are you doing well?
- What could you do differently?
Look to build your support and information network. At the end of the discussion think about asking your mentor:
- Is there anyone else you could suggest I get in touch with?
- When can we meet again?
After meeting with your mentor….
Make it count. Set time aside after your discussion to reflect on what you learned from the meeting and decide how you intend to implement any actions or ideas you discussed. Make sure you thank your mentor for their time and advice, and set up the date of your next meeting so you have a deadline to work towards that will help you to meet your goals.