The Apochromatik Guide to Mentoring: Part II – 8 Things Mentees and Mentors Want

—Amy M. Gardner

Last week we addressed the differences between mentoring, sponsorships, coaching, and friendships, and delved deeper into mentoring.  This week, we’ll focus on what mentors and mentees want from each other.  When mentors and mentees have differing expectations, problems can crop up in the relationship or, even worse, cause it to fall apart completely.  By understanding what your counterpart wants, your relationship can be positive and productive for both of you.

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And come back next week when National Mentoring Month comes to a close and we address the three types of mentors every professional needs, the one thing you need to do to make the most of a formal mentoring program, and more.  

1.)   Mentees want mentors to be responsive.

Differing expectations about responsiveness causes problems in mentoring relationships. I’ve seen many times when a mentee reaches out to a mentor and the mentor doesn’t respond immediately, or overlooks an email, and the mentee jumps to the conclusion that the mentor isn’t interested in the relationship.  Instead, if you’re the mentee, follow up after a week and recognize that you are not your mentor’s only priority.  It’s also important for mentees to remember that you need to be even more responsive than you’d like your mentor to be.

On the flip side, mentors can keep in mind that your mentee may interpret a lack of responsiveness as a lack of interest, especially early in the relationship.

2.)    Mentees want honest advice.  

As hard as it can be to hear about areas for improvement, mentees want to know where they can improve and grow in their careers.  As a mentor, it’s important to not shy away from sharing honest feedback diplomatically. 

As a mentee, it’s important to listen to that advice and feedback without being defensive. Hearing honest feedback with an open mind is a skill that will benefit you in other contexts, and will help deepen the relationship and make the mentor more likely to provide feedback in the future.  

3.)   Mentors want mentees to follow up on their advice.

Conversely, mentors want mentees to follow up on the advice they give.  While mentors should not expect mentees to follow 100% of their advice, mentees should be prepared to report back on what advice they did follow and to explain why they didn’t take all of the mentor’s advice.  This ensures that the mentor understands that the mentee heard their advice, thought about it carefully, and then made a different decision.

4.)   Mentors want mentees to have thought about their strengths and weaknesses and be prepared to discuss them.

Mentors want mentees to have considered their strengths and weaknesses and where they might like their career to go.  That doesn’t mean mentees must bring a 25 year career plan to a first meeting, but mentees also shouldn’t answer “I’ve never thought about it” when asked where they would like to be in five years.

5.)   Mentors want mentees to initiate and schedule discussions on a regular basis.

This expectation can cause some frustration on the part of mentees, but mentees should consider it part of the deal.  As one mentee explained to me, she found it off-putting that her mentor always expected her to do the “work” of suggesting and arranging outings.  “I’m not his secretary,” she told me.  “No, but he isn’t yours, either,” I explained. Remember, this relationship is intended to benefit the mentee, so mentors generally to expect mentees will do the legwork to arrange meetings.  

As we discussed previously, mentoring relationships are ongoing.  One easy way for mentees to make sure that happens is by setting a recurring reminder to reach out to your mentor(s) on a regular basis.  (Mentors may want to do this as well.)  Even if they are incredibly busy, mentors generally want to hear from mentees more regularly and more often than mentees expect.  Just popping up in the midst of a career crisis limits the mentor’s ability to help the mentee avoid the crisis in the first place, and can make the mentor feel frustrated.

6.)   Mentors want mentees to follow up on introductions.

When mentors make an introduction, they expect that the mentee will follow up.  Anything else is unprofessional and reflects poorly both on the mentee, and on the mentor.

7.)   Mentors want appreciation.  

Sometimes mentees forget how busy mentors are and don’t express appreciation for giving their time and sharing their expertise and (hopefully) honest feedback. Mentees should express appreciation in ways small (verbally) and large (flowers on the mentor’s birthday, or when either person celebrates a big professional milestone).

8.)   Mentors want the mentee to care about the mentor’s career and to make the relationship a two-way street.

It can be hard for mentees to imagine how they can possibly help their mentor’s career, so let me share an example.  A year ago I was having coffee with a law student who wanted career advice when she asked about my coaching and consulting work.

I explained to her that in addition to coaching clients one-on-one, we conduct trainings for firms and organizations.  I told her that one of the topics we cover is how to give feedback and how to receive feedback.  The student told me about an article she had read about the neuroscience behind feedback and the biological responses that you have when you’re receiving feedback. I was familiar with the research but not the particular article that she was referencing, so I appreciated when she followed up by sending me the article and the title of a book she thought I might also find helpful.  Through these gestures, she was able to make our relationship a two-way street. 

Mentees can and should make the mentoring relationship a two-way street. 

There you have it: Mentees want mentors to be responsive and provide honest feedback.  Mentors want mentees to ask them for their advice and feedback and then follow up on it, have thought about their strengths and weaknesses and the areas where they want to improve; initiate and schedule discussions regularly; always follow up on introductions; express appreciation; and care about the mentor’s career and make the relationship a two-way street.  

As always, please share this post and our blog with others in your network.  This series came about because a blog reader emailed and asked us to address mentoring.  If you have suggestions for future topics, please post them in the comments or send us a message – we’d love to hear from you.

That’s all for this week. If you can’t wait for the future posts in this series on mentoring, you can watch this free webinar on how to build and utilize meaningful mentoring relationships hosted by the Northwestern Alumni Association.  (No Northwestern affiliation is required to watch this recorded program.)   

Also, look out later this week for Apochromatik’s Five Step Method to Find Your Mentor.