In the Social Age, when it seems like we’re always on – always connected – our time is precious. How we spend every hour matters.
And yet we – those who have been around for a while longer than our younger colleagues – want to give back. We intentionally find time to do pro bono work, volunteer, teach and – in my case – serve as a mentor to college students, recent grads and young professionals.
I love that aspect of my work. It gets me out of bed every morning; it provides me pure energy when I start to fatigue. To me, at this point in my career, serving as a mentor is more important than a paycheck.
Like everyone else, though, I have my limits. And I make choices. Specifically, I work hard to choose the right people to spend my time with… and limit my participation if I see less than full engagement by the mentee. And if I ever feel that my time isn’t being valued – and we no longer have a relationship that benefits both of us – our time together will end.
Why? Because mentorship is an investment in you… not an act of charity.
For your mentors, and potential mentors, who may feel the same way I do, here’s how to ensure your mentor relationships are a good investment.
Discover and Reinforce Your Commonalities
When a mentor decides whether or not to engage in a new relationship, these are some of the first questions they’ll ask themselves about you:
- Do the mentee’s personal and career goals align with my experience?
- Do they share the same passion for a certain profession, industry or perhaps entrepreneurship?
- Did they go to the same school or, in some other way, share a similar background?
Assuming one of the questions gets answered with a “yes” there is one more:
- Do I see real potential in this person?
From your first meeting on, be prepared to discover where your commonalities lie – and be ready to show real potential. And if there are no commonalities, and I don’t see real potential, we’ll just go back to being contacts on LinkedIn.
Mentor? Or Therapist?
Some of the help a mentor provides is through telling their own stories and experiences, and by outlining the choices available to you. You’ll hear what they chose to do, and how the story turned out. So there is often a personal element to your conversations.
But if you’re only interested in talking about yourself, your family, your flakey friends – and your problems, mistakes and failures – we can’t help you. You need a therapist… not a mentor.
My personal rule for choosing to work with a mentee: “No trolls, drama queens or divas… no fakers, no takers and no Ask-holes.” Show you may be one or more of these too often – and I’ll find another way to invest my time.
Set Challenging and Specific Goals
I once sat down with a potential mentee at a Starbucks in Sacramento. He was impeccably dressed and had a smile as big and as sincere as I’d ever seen. I was impressed from the first moment I saw him.
And then I asked: “So what are your long-term goals? How will you make a difference… and how can I help?”
His answer: “I’m going to be a millionaire!”
I sighed, shook my head in disbelief at his vague answer… and said: “Thank you for the coffee. Good luck.”
At the beginning of each mentor relationship, you’re going to be asked questions like these:
- What are your short-term and overall goals?
- What milestones will you need to hit to meet those goals?
- What does success look like… how will you know when you’re done?
Your response to these questions, along with the passion on display as you answer them, is going to help the potential mentor frame the conversation – and help them determine whether or to go all-in with their guidance. Answer succinctly and constructively – with quantified examples – and you’ve likely found yourself a mentor. Answer in vague terms, and that potential mentor is going to thank you for the coffee and wish you good luck.
Respect Their Time – And Yours
A mentee calling, emailing, texting and social stalking a mentor – or potential mentor – is a sure sign of a unhealthy relationship. Set firm appointments with your mentor, and then keep those appointments! Not showing up is not cool. Neither is showing up unprepared. Be ready… and be on time.
Bonus: Once you’ve established that you respect their time, and yours, no mentor in the world will mind a spontaneous call, email or text that says, “Hey, got a minute?”
Seek Feedback… not Affirmation
I blame the helicopter parents for this one. It is NOT my job to tell you what a great idea you have, or to tell you how special you are. As a mentor, my job is to make sure you’ve thought of all the possible outcomes – both positive and negative. If you don’t really want the feedback – the good and the bad – go talk to your parents.
As you begin to develop your mentor relationships, ask yourself:
- Am I actively listening to the advice… or am I already thinking about what to say next?
- Is my mentor gaining anything from our relationship… or is it just me?
- How can I help my mentor… what problem does she face I can solve?
- When was the last time I said “thank you”… and really meant it?
Mentors can make all the difference. Value each conversation. And, at every turn, give something back to the person who’s invested so much to you.
About the Author: CEO and Founder of YouTern, Mark Babbitt is a serial mentor who has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable and Forbes regarding job search, career development, internships and higher education’s role in preparing emerging talent for the workforce. His contributions include Harvard Business Review, Inc., Huffington Post and Switch & Shift.
Mark is also the co-author of the Amazon best-seller, A World Gone Social: How Business Must Adapt to Survive. An in-demand speaker and mentor, Mark has been named as a “Top 100 Leadership Speaker” and a “Top 50 Leadership Innovator” by Inc. – and one of the “15 Twitter Accounts Every Entrepreneur Should Follow” by Business News Daily.
Questions? Contact Mark on Twitter.