When it comes to mentorship, working with a mentee who aspires to build a career in the same area of the industry is usually a very straightforward proposition. It is relatively easy to assess a mentee’s level of professional development, job-specific skill set and key areas of improvement. The advice flows freely because it’s second nature.
This dynamic is what many might be tempted to call the “perfect fit” — the ideal mentee-mentor relationship — and in many cases, it is. It doesn’t mean, however, that a pairing between individuals from two different professional backgrounds cannot be equally as valuable. In fact, it can sometimes be an even richer experience for both mentee and mentor for a variety of reasons:
1. It takes the advice to 30,000 feet: As a mentor, when you’re not able to provide targeted guidance about a specific role or discipline, you have to take a broader approach. It becomes less about how you can help your mentee grow in her day-to-day position or land a job in the industry and more about how you can support her development as a professional. How can you help her define her personal brand, improve her communication skills, handle conflict, embrace technology and feel confident in asking for what she wants? These examples are invaluable growth areas you often don’t get to when you’re focused on helping a mentee learn to write better press releases, build a media list or hone a pitch.
2. The mentee is more comfortable opening up: When you’re not a part of your mentee’s industry or circle of influence, it can remove the barriers that prevent people from sharing challenges and key issues, barriers such as fear that you might have professional relationships with people in her workplace or fear of hurting her chances of working for you someday. When those fears are not in play, it can foster a much more honest and free-flowing dialogue.
3. It challenges both mentor and mentee: When a mentor listens to a mentee who works in the same profession, it’s easy to preface every nugget of advice with, “When I was … ,” “When I did … ,” “When that happened to me … .” When you don’t have those specific personal experiences to draw upon, you have to employ a higher level of critical thinking to help a mentee solve a problem or assess a situation correctly. Conversely, in a mentee-driven program such as WISE Within, the mentee’s challenge is to truly understand what it is she can learn from you and identify the right questions to ask in order to facilitate that learning.
An “imperfect” mentor-mentee relationship works for these reasons and more. 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.