Written for the Female Ventures Blog by Anne Pleun van Eijsden
In this third part of the series about mentors in your business and career, I would like to dive into the topic of how to work with a mentor. Now that the real difficult part of finding a mentor is over, it’s onto the essential matter of building the relationship. Building a relationship with your mentor takes time and effort.Just like any business or career, it is not an automatic overnight success.
Take the time (but not too much)
As I’ve written before, always consider the fact that your mentor might be very busy, and most likely does not have hours to spend ploughing through your business plan or carefully drafted A4 e-mails. Keep it short and sweet here. My rule of thumb? Make sure emails in which you ask a question consist of roughly three short paragraphs. First, a nice and personal intro. Followed by the question, then conclude by what you would like from your mentor. Would this be a 10 minute phone call regarding the question, or would it be an introduction somewhere, or something else maybe? But make it easy for your mentor to quickly understand what’s expected from her.
Here’s an example email from mentee to mentor (with a few edits!):
After some time you could propose to schedule a (recurring) meeting of course, but keep in mind that it might take your mentor a while to free up time in her day. Make it easy for the mentor, for example, by meeting at her office, buying lunch or travelling with your mentor to another one of her meetings whilst having your meeting.
Whenever you’re meeting with your mentor, make your ‘ask’ clear. Prepare the meeting and set up an agenda to stick to during the conversation. That way it is easier to make sure no one wastes time asking or answering the wrong questions. Prepare yourself by sitting down ahead of time alone, maybe even in a monologue, ranking all the points that you would like to discuss. No joke– if you say the questions out loud, some might not seem all that relevant anymore. And irrelevant questions are better left out in the conversation – you are looking for valuable advice on your most pressing questions. If there is some time left, you can always ask some ‘second in line’ questions.
Make it personal
In my opinion, it is important to view your mentor not as ‘just’ your mentor. Ask your mentor about her or his (personal) life, the challenges and opportunities she or he is facing. This builds a bond between you two while also giving you insight about what’s going on in the life of your mentor. Make sure this relationship does not become a one-way street where you only ask questions by sharing your own experiences and challenges.
Something else that can really strengthen the relationship between you and your mentor, is when you show that you take her advice into practice. This is very valuable, since it actively indicates that you are not just taking up time and hearing the advice coming out of your mentor’s mouth, but that you actually act on it. Don’t forget that a lot of people taking on a mentor role do so to have fun and learn from it as well. What better way to do so than by seeing your advice put into practice? It means you value your mentor’s advice enough to try if it works well in your situation!
Thank you for reading this three-part series on mentorship. If you have any additional questions relating to this topic, please don’t hesitate to add me on LinkedIn or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to stay in touch!