3 Important but Challenging Things for Mentees to Do Well

In this article, experienced mentor Simon Brown shares the 3 key challenges faced by mentees and how they can overcome them.

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Over the past 4 years, I have been a volunteer mentor on the PushFar open mentoring platform. It has been a rewarding experience as I have had the opportunity to meet with over 20 mentees and potential mentees across the world from a range of countries including the USA, Kenya, Nigeria, Brazil, Hungary, Germany, Belgium, England, and Wales. Mentoring can certainly become a two-way knowledge exchange where we learn about different cultures, languages, economies, and even time zone differences and Wi-Fi infrastructure.

In fact, 11 of the 20-plus mentorship experiences have been positive with, in most cases, effective working relationships being formed over 7 or more regular monthly meetings. Over half of the 11 mentees have gained promotion or job moves over this period and most of the others have gained insights, received fresh knowledge, or been introduced to other contacts in my network who can help them.

However, sometimes I have found it can be a challenge for mentees to do these three key activities:

1. Keep to regular meeting routines.
2. Set clear goals.
3. Build their networks.

So, let's take a look at each of these in turn to explore why this is, and what can be done to overcome these challenges.

1. Keeping to Regular Meeting Routines

We are all often very busy with our day-to-day lives and sometimes find it difficult to set aside time in our calendars for our own personal and career development. If we are juggling with both family commitments and work demands they often can take over our time and squeeze out the bit in the middle – us, ourselves. Our work/life, life/work balance can easily get out of shape.

So, it is really important to purposefully set aside time and space to book those meetings with ourselves to reflect, to find some balance or, to seek the advice and sounding board of a mentor for an hour.

For mentees who don’t have control of their work calendar and who don’t have the authority to take an hour from their busy working day, this often means things can slip concerning regular mentoring.

The downside of this is that continuity can be lost, and the mentor is no longer up to speed with the latest developments in the career path of the mentee. After a gap of 3 months or more the first half of any subsequent mentoring meeting is taken in getting back up to speed and the opportunity for the mentor to share relevant knowledge and support is lost.

One way to minimise the infrequency of meetings (in my view one hour each month is the minimum requirement to be able to add real value in formal mentoring relationships) is to agree at the matching stage (introductory meeting) when in the week both mentees and mentor would be able to meet regularly. Is it during Monday - Friday during working hours, or is it a breakfast time meeting, lunchtime meeting or early evening meeting that will work best? And what about time zone difference?

For example: I was approached by one person who wanted me to be their mentor and found out that they were based in Australia, whereas I am based in the UK. The 12-hour time difference was always going to be tricky for us so I suggested they look for a mentor in Australia instead! And is it okay for both parties to have evening or weekend mentoring sessions – how does this fit with life balance? If it works for both - then it's fine. But do agree on this upfront to be sure one is not impinging on another’s downtime.

A second way to enable regular meetings is to book several in advance together. This way agendas can be planned and sent, research and action plans can be worked on knowing that a meeting is coming up on a certain day of the month at a certain time. If the mentoring relationship is set to last for 6 months or more, I would recommend agreeing at least 3 meetings in advance to start with, and then on meeting number two agree another two or three meeting dates. With the 11 mentoring relationships I have had which have worked well I have found that it takes at least 3 or 4 meetings to build trust, really get to know each other in terms of what is wanted and what can be offered and make tangible progress with achieving agreed goals. And that brings us on to the second challenge…

2. Setting Clear Goals

On more than one occasion in introductory meetings, I have asked the potential mentee “What are you aiming for, what are you looking to achieve, what are your goals for this mentoring relationship?” And I have been met with a puzzled look, a “don’t really know” comment, or an “I just want a mentor“ remark.

As the famous saying goes “If you don’t know where the goalposts are you will find it very difficult to score a goal.”

So, the advice to mentees here is to think in advance about what is your purpose for entering into a mentoring relationship before you start, and at least have some idea to discuss in the first meeting. Only then will you find out if the mentor is well-equipped with the relevant knowledge or experience to be able to help you. I was approached by an Engineer who wanted advice on Engineering apprenticeships and one who wanted to develop in Procurement. My Mentor profile on PushFar indicates that these areas are not listed as my expertise.

So, I was honest upfront and explained this in the PushFar messaging comments. Saving us both time.

When both mentee and mentor discover that they can exchange wants and offers that will align (tip: first read the profile of the individual on PushFar) then it is possible to shape goals by working together.

I recommend two structured approaches to building goals, these are:

1. SMART Goal Setting

SMART goal setting is an approach used to help individuals set clear, specific, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals. The SMART acronym stands for:

• Specific: Goals need to be well-defined and clear.
• Measurable: Goals need to be quantifiable, allowing for progress to be tracked.
• Achievable: Goals should be realistic and achievable.
• Relevant: Goals need to be relevant and align with your values and mission.
• Time-bound: Goals must have a specific timeframe or deadline.

To learn more about SMART goals in mentoring, click here.

2. The GROWTH Model

Using the growth model, the mentor should ask the mentee 6 searching questions, including:

1. What is your GOAL for this mentoring relationship?
2. What is your current situation - the REALITY of today?
3. What OPTIONS and OPPORTUNITIES do you have to close the gap between your goal and the current reality? And what OBSTACLES do you need to overcome?
4. What WILL you do? And what help will you need?
5. What TACTICS can you use?
6. HOW will you measure success?

Be realistic about what goals are achievable in the duration of the mentoring relationship – some things take longer than 3 or 6 months, so can you set milestones to note and aim for along the way to show progress with the career journey?

Do all mentors have all the answers? Clearly, it’s a “NO”. Yet often mentors with lots of experience and knowledge in a certain field will know someone in their own contacts who may have one or more of the answers. So, this leads us to the third challenge for mentees.

3. Building One’s Own Network of Useful Contacts

Another famous truth is that “if you are looking for a job, first get an introduction to someone who may know someone who can offer a job, and can do a warm referral and recommendation – before the job is even advertised”. Would you as a mentee rather be seen before the job is advertised and 100 other candidates apply? Or would an exploratory meeting help to crystalize thinking about potential matches for opportunities and keep you in the mind of the recruiter or decision maker? Yes, please!

The mentor who is well matched with you the mentee will likely be well connected in the targeted work area and by agreement can introduce the mentee to the recruiter or decision maker. Often a warm introduction on LinkedIn will open doors to discussions.

And talking of LinkedIn it is fair to say that most recruiters now look for candidates on LinkedIn as it is quicker, less expensive and more targeted (using keyword search) than placing an advert on a job board. So, if the mentee can build a good LinkedIn profile (and their mentor can usually guide them here) they become more searchable and easier to reach for those who have or may soon have a job vacancy.

Mentees can also proactively build their own network on LinkedIn. Aim for 500 connections as a first goal. This can be done by getting introductions to people who are already connected to someone you already know and trust, joining LinkedIn groups for professional groups that you are interested in, and liking or commenting sensibly on someone else’s LinkedIn post.

My own selection criteria for seeking to connect with someone on LinkedIn is as follows:

• Do I know them?
• Are they connected to someone I know and trust?
• Do they have a good professional profile?
• Do they share similar interests to mine – who do they follow, do they volunteer, what groups are they in?
• Do they have recommendations and skill endorsements on LinkedIn that are in the same areas as my interests?
• Are they connected to decision-makers?

If yes to at least 4 of the above do feel confident to reach out to them seeking to connect to “share and exchange knowledge and ideas in areas of mutual interest“.

Focus on the above three challenging areas of keeping momentum through regular monthly meetings, setting clear goals, and building networks, and I am confident that as proactive and progressive mentees you can thrive and grow.

Written by Simon Brown - December 2023.

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