Now in its fifth year, the WISE Within blog has been an online platform for mentors and mentees to share their stories and offer best practices in getting the most out of the mentoring experience. As WISE chapters across the country kick off another year of the signature mentorship program this month, it’s worth revisiting some tips that have been offered through this platform from those in the know — program alumnae.
While these were presented in the context of mentoring, they apply to professional relationships on many levels — whether you are building your network or asking for an informational interview.
1. Be prepared — do your homework and set goals.
For mentees, “first, you have to decide what you want out of this experience,” advised mentee Stacy Schierman. “Why do you want a mentor? What does that mean to you? Where are you at this time in your life? Are you getting a promotion, changing companies, switching fields or starting a new job? Decide what direction you want to go in to discuss with your mentor. This is a great opportunity to ask someone who has the industry knowledge for their advice and find out what worked for them.”
Shared Caroline Rebello, “Initially, our relationship involved a lot of time and planning, mainly from my end as the mentee. I went into every one of our monthly lunches prepared with a topic to discuss. Sometimes, it was strategies on navigating internal politics; other times, it was how to write a self-assessment of my contributions for the year.”
2. Manage expectations.
“Let’s face it. Meeting your mentor or mentee for the first time isn’t much different from a blind date. It can be awkward,” wrote mentor Laurie Greenberg. “Thankfully, WISE Within provides structure. Requisite monthly meetings or phone calls, an exchange of expectations and a time frame for the program prove vital in overcoming the potential uneasiness involved with getting to know someone new.”
“Use your initial meeting to decide on a strategy for success together — convenient times and places to meet and talk, the best way to get in touch with one another, the use of talking points — and be clear with your expectations,” advised mentor Maureen Kelly.
3. Be present — you’ve committed the time, so make the most of it.
“To do that, a mentor has to be willing to leave the office behind — mentally, more than anything — and dedicate full attention to the mentee,” shared mentor Gail Hunter. “If my mentee and I arrange a lunch meeting, I make it a point to put the BlackBerry down. And, I expect the same in return. We enter into these relationships because we believe mentoring is important to professional and personal growth. Distractions only interfere with what we are trying to accomplish.”
4. Be creative — veer off the beaten path when arranging your meetings.
“My question is — why limit yourself to a traditional time frame and venue? Why not take a look at some less obvious ways of spending time with one another?” asked mentor Maggie Sullivan, who suggested meeting up at a local park for a talk-walk combo or grabbing coffee or lunch on the weekend. “These ideas will create a gentle shift away from the work week demands of time and place and separate your mentor-mentee relationship from the day-to-day stress of the office.”
5. Embrace differences — use them as opportunities for learning and growth.
It’s easy to label a partnership between a mentee and mentor interested and experienced in the same field as a “perfect fit,” said mentor Melinda Travis, but that doesn’t devalue the pairing of two individuals from two different professional backgrounds.
“In fact, it can sometimes be an even richer experience,” she wrote, pointing out that such an arrangement may allow a mentee to open up more freely while challenging both participants to think more critically.
“Success in mentorship means different things to different people, but at its core, it’s about the quality of information imparted. All of us have something to teach, even if the connection isn’t apparent right away, and sometimes, the value is in our differences.”
Editor’s note: Read more from our alumnae in our WW Blog Archive Section.