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So You Have a Mentor . . . Now What?
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
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Congratulations! You did your research, approached your role model, and now have found your perfect mentor. No, it’s not time to sit back and relax. To have a valuable experience with your mentor, there are certain aspects of the relationship you need to own. 

1. Reach Out 

Be the relationship initiator; don’t wait for your mentor to get in touch with you. Set up an introductory meeting with your mentor at her convenience. Use this meeting as a way to get to know each other. Remember, this relationship is for your benefit; once this meeting is set, do everything in your power not to cancel it. The last thing you want to do is appear flakey at the beginning of the relationship, because it will cause your mentor to have second thoughts about helping you.

2. Be Clear 

Your mentor is not a mind reader. She doesn’t know your background, strengths, weaknesses, expectations, or goals. During your introductory meeting, it’s critical to talk about your professional background and discuss any relevant information to make the relationship successful. Remember to ask your mentor about her career development as well.

Additionally, set concrete expectations for the relationship. The two of you should establish how often you plan to meet, how long you plan to meet, how long you expect this relationship to last, and what you expect to get out of the relationship.

Finally, tell your mentor why you chose her and what you hope to learn. If your mentor has a sound understanding of your needs, she will be better able to tailor her guidance for your development.

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3. Challenge Yourself 

Development is no easy feat. To meet your goals and overcome your weaknesses, you can’t be self-conscious. Let your mentor know your weaknesses and together brainstorm ways to overcome them. Be open to having some difficult and uncomfortable conversations.

4. Take Action 

While talking through ideas with your mentor is a great process, go out in the real world and put her advice into action. Try a new communication technique you discussed, or find an opportunity at work that will help you develop your weak areas. By taking tangible steps to develop yourself, you will grow your confidence and your skill sets. Plus, you can talk through events and issues with your mentor in real time and receive direct feedback.

5. Stay Engaged 

When your mentor is speaking to you, be attentive and practice active listening. If you are checking your phone or seem disengaged, your mentor will become discouraged. Make sure your mentor feels that her commitment to you is a valuable use of her time. Be open to new ideas and be teachable. You are working with a mentor because she has experience and knowledge that you do not. However, you can still have a reciprocal relationship with your mentor. Ask engaging questions and challenge ideas your mentor presents. While the relationship is about your career development, you may teach your mentor a thing or two.

6. Say Thank You

Always show your mentor gratitude. Whether it’s a verbal thank you, a handwritten note, or a small gift (when appropriate), ensure that your mentor feels appreciated for the efforts she made. 

You do not have complete control over the success of your relationship, but you do have the ability to make a significant contribution to your development. Put in the necessary work prior to your mentoring sessions to ensure the most effective use of your mentor’s time and to get the most out of the relationship.

Looking for additional resources on mentoring? Check out these mentoring opportunities and best practices in the federal government. 

About the Author

Clara Von Ins is the Human Capital Specialist at the Association for Talent Development (ATD). Prior to working for ATD, Clara worked for the American Red Cross as the disaster program coordinator in Santa Barbara, California.


Clara received an bachelor’s degree from the Ohio State University in psychology and education. She is currently attending the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill remotely to obtain a master’s degree in public administration with an emphasis on nonprofit management and community and economic development. 

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