In the professional world, no one goes it alone. That’s why more and more people are realizing the importance of mentors — experienced individuals who take you under their wing when you’re starting out and help you develop your career. When choosing a mentor, it’s crucial to pick carefully, but as Nielsen VP of Diversity & Inclusion Natasha Miller Williams points out, it’s also essential to be a good mentee.
“The best mentees recognize this and present themselves in a way that makes it easy for a mentor to become their greatest ally,” writes Williams in a thoughtful Black Enterprise post titled “5 Ways to be the Mentee Every Mentor Wants.”
So how can you ensure a positive and productive mentor-mentee relationship? Williams’ first tip is to “set clear goals.” Before you begin working with your mentor, figure out what you’d like to gain from your one-on-one time and outline your career vision, even if it’s vague. Your mentor is investing in a product, Williams writes, and that product is you. This will be a much more attractive investment if there are specific benchmarks you’re reaching for.
Next up, Williams urges mentees to “come prepared.” Arrive at each meeting with a plan for what you hope to accomplish that day. This will prove that you value your mentor’s time and take the process seriously. One word of caution: Don’t script things too heavily. According to Williams, some of the best breakthroughs may come when you and your mentor are veering off topic and discussing things you hadn’t thought of.
The third one is a biggie: “listen.” Or more correctly, actively listen. This means taking your mentor’s advice and reporting back in such a way that lets the person know you’ve processed their suggestions and tried them out. Talk about how you implemented certain bits of advice and how things turned out, and even if you don’t find all of their ideas beneficial, show that you’re willing to take chances and learn from experience.
Although mentors are there to help you, it shouldn’t be a completely one-sided affair. Williams next tip is to “pay back your investor.” This simply means asking questions about what he or she is working on and doing things like suggesting books and magazine articles to read. The idea is to demonstrate that you’re interested in their lives, too, and as Williams points out, it could lead to opportunities down the road.
Finally, Williams writes that mentees should “be grateful” and say thank you with handwritten notes. “Everyone likes to feel valued,” she writes, “and your tangible expression of how thankful you are for their time and ideas will endear you to a mentor even more.”