Personal relationships are the best way to make connections in a career and to learn about specific professions and jobs. If you have a personal connection with someone higher up in your field, that kind of mentor-mentee relationship can be invaluable – but only if you make the most of it.
But how can you squeeze all those great tips and helpful tidbits of information out of your mentor without annoying him or her? How can you foster the relationship without pushing too hard?
Be valuable. If someone is mentoring you in your chosen profession, there are many things you can probably offer. Chances are you’re probably more tuned in to the daily goings-on of the profession because they’re too busy. They might rely on you to make sure they’re up-to-date on the latest news.
Likewise, if you work at a large company in a lower level, you’re more likely to know what’s happening at the ground level and can report back to them with helpful information. And when all else fails, there’s always lunch: buy them a meal to thank them for their hard work, and don’t take no for an answer.
Know what you want – and tell them. This doesn’t mean that you should be pushy, but if your mentor doesn’t really understand what you’re ultimately after, they won’t have a clear idea of how to help you or what you want to know. Make sure that you know exactly what your goals are and what you hope to gain from the mentorship.
Get on the schedule. If you’re not on a busy person’s schedule, chances are you’ll never see them, regardless of how good the intentions are behind their mentorship offer. Set up a standing lunch or office meeting and try to make them stick to it as much as possible. This is one reason why it’s a good idea to keep on friendly terms with their assistant.
Give it time. One of the biggest mistakes a mentee can make is pushing for too much too soon. Think of your mentor like a friend who also has something you want – the most important thing is maintaining that friendship and fostering the relationship. The better they know you, the more likely they’ll be to offer more help and go to bat for you.
Make it interesting. As much as you want to keep a regular meeting and work toward getting help and knowledge from your mentor, remember that this is time and effort for them – even if they like you!
Instead of always meeting in their office, suggest going out for lunch or meeting in some other way. If you share interest in something (theatre, golf, Cuban bakeries) plan an outing and make that your “meeting.” They’ll appreciate doing something different, and the new setting might even cause them to open up to you in different ways.
Instead of mentor, think mentors… This one is a bit tricky, because you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but there’s no rule against having more than one person mentor you. In fact, there can be a number of advantages.
First off, you don’t have to push one person as hard to get what you need. Second, it astronomically increases your networking abilities – and may even be a benefit to both mentors if they meet and like each other. Lastly, it allows you to choose different kinds of mentors for different aspects of your life – one person doesn’t have to feel completely responsible for your growth as a human being!
In general, the lesson to learn with mentor-mentee relationships is that while you can’t be afraid to ask and be clear about your needs, you also have to remember that your mentor is a person, too, and that the relationship is providing you with these benefits, not the other way around.