- Know what you want
- What makes a mentorship successful?
- Finding the right mentor
- Reaching out to your potential mentor
- Why you should set expectations early
- Compromising with your mentor
- As the mentorship progresses
How can you as a mentee find the right mentor? And having found them, how can you work with them to make sure you're getting what you want out of the mentorship?
Learn how Kaylee found a promising mentor and then communicated with them to structure the perfect mentorship!
Unsure what a long-term mentorship could look like for you?
From the beginning, she knew pretty much exactly what she wanted to get out of her mentorship: a long-term mentor whom she could meet with regularly to discuss her career path during her senior year of college.
Kaylee wanted a structured mentorship focused on her career. She got that…along with some surprises.
I chatted with Kaylee about how she went about first choosing such a mentor and then working with him to structure the mentorship around their shared (and some divergent) goals and expectations — and how her expectations of what a successful mentorship looked like expanded as a result.
Asked what she thought made a mentorship successful, Kaylee referred to communication and honesty as key. For her, those values are essential to establishing a successful, rewarding mentorship relationship.
“If you really want good, valuable advice, you have to be able to be honest with your mentor about what you’re trying to get out of the relationship. That means defining your goals and expectations, which I think is absolutely crucial to do at the beginning so there’s no confusion later on.
“Lay everything out there. Maybe you only want to have a mentor for a year — get that out of the way at the beginning, rather than a year later when one person thinks the mentorship’s going to continue while the other thinks it’s going to end.
“So just be honest and communicate what your expectations are right at the beginning.”
The St. Thomas Connect platform, where Kaylee found her mentor.
Knowing she wanted a long-term mentor, Kaylee turned to St. Thomas Connect, the University of St. Thomas’ mentorship platform that enables students to reach out to alumni who are willing to serve as mentors.
The St. Thomas Connect platform is powered by PeopleGrove, a software platform that facilitates student alumni mentorships.
For Kaylee, the issue wasn’t finding a mentor so much as finding the rightmentor. She researched available mentors on St. Thomas Connect, filtering mentors based on industries and even specific companies she was interested in.
“It’s overwhelming to see just the sheer number of mentors you can pick from — there are hundreds there — how do I pick the one?”
Kaylee did a targeted search for a mentor who matched her interests.
In the end, she selected seven mentors, then narrowed them down based on their profiles.
“I was able to go through their profiles and kind of get a better feel for who they were as people and where they’d been.
“I was able to ask myself, if I had the opportunity to talk to this person, would I have things to talk about?”
Kaylee began by considering each mentor from the perspective of how they could benefit her, but as she examined profiles more closely, she began to consider a second factor as well.
Kaylee used Help Topics to make sure she and her mentor were on the same page.
She began to look at the “help areas” mentors had listed on their profiles (the non-industry-specific areas mentors want to help mentees out in, topics ranging from work-life balance to finding a job after college).
She began to ask herself, “Is this aligning with what I expect out of a mentor?”
This attention was worth it down the road. Looking back on her mentorship, Kaylee reflected that “from the beginning, it was really great to have that mutual feeling of interest, and I think it’s made for a really good mentorship so far.”
Having selected someone she thought would be a good match, Kaylee needed to actually connect with them.
“This was so easy on the PeopleGrove site, because you just hit ‘Initiate a long term mentorship.’"
Personalizing her mentorship request ensured Kaylee got a response.
Then Kaylee set about writing a powerful message to open the mentorship.
“The platform gives you a set template, where you can kind of just fill some personal info about yourself.
“And do personalize that message! The mentors are going to receive more than one request.
“If you are passionate about that person, just be very honest about ‘These are the top three things I saw on your profile, this is why I’m interested in you, this is why I’d like you to be my mentor.”
The effort Kaylee put into customizing her message to her mentor paid off big time.
“Recently, my mentor mentioned that he had received maybe 4 or 5 mentorships requests, but the reason he picked me was because I had personalized my initial message to him a little bit more and showed interest.”
Despite her careful selection of mentor, Kaylee urged mentees not to feel stuck in a mentorship after sending that initial request.
“Don’t feel like once you message that person you can’t find someone else or can’t leave. Because that’s not true. Just go in and be very open about what you want, not just when you message them but also when you talk to them.
“Lay it all out there. Share your expectations as a mentee and ask what their expectations as a mentor are.
“Then it’s very easy to tell if something is going to be a successful mentorship or if it’s just not — and if it’s not, you can look for someone else.”
In this case, though, Kaylee didn’t need to look for another mentor. Kaylee’s mentor demonstrated an attention to detail and structure similar to her own.
“I let my mentor know [what I wanted], and it was good because he had come in with the same expectations. I think if you don’t establish those kinds of goals and expectations right at the beginning, you leave a lot of space for uncertainty to fester.”
It was proof that the time she’d put into selecting a mentor who shared her expectations was paying off.
Not all of Kaylee’s expectations aligned with those of her mentor. But because they clarified their expectations going into the mentorship, they were able to talk through the discrepancies in their expectations right away and make sure the mentorship worked for them.
“What my mentor wanted to do was step away from the career aspect, which is kind of what I came into the mentorship expecting to focus on (I wanted someone who could help me with my career, with industries, with networking)."
Kaylee and her mentor were able to meet in person for their first conversation. During that conversation, they discussed expectations and goals.
“During out first conversation, he said, ‘I’d like to be your mentor for a long time, not just for the school year, and I’d like to help you personally, not just career-wise.’
“That was a really good goal that we established right off the bat. And it was a really big surprise to me, but it was a welcome surprise, to hear that he wanted to make it a long term situation, that he wanted it to be more than just a means to an end, and that he actually wanted to help with my well being and help me become a better person.”
Kaylee was enthusiastic about trying the structure her mentor proposed.
Asked later what advice she’d have for mentors, she returned to her mentor’s example and recommended clarifying expectations and setting goals early. She urged mentors to “find out about your mentee, ask how they learn, clarify expectations, and really hear what they’re saying.”
Kaylee recommended that mentors take the lead on providing this structure, “because mentees are very nervous and might not speak up or might not know how to speak up.”
Kaylee and her mentor have worked to keep their mentorship structured and hold each other accountable to their goals for the mentorship. It went well — “every time we met we had something to talk about."
During the first few months of their mentorship, they set aside short term-goals (talking about finding a job or interviewing).
“Instead, he had me write down fifteen things that I want to be known for when I’m sixty. From there we got it down to three, and he shared his personal top three things with me.”
It wasn’t what Kaylee had originally expected, but it worked out: true to the goals they had set in their first meeting, they soon began to narrow their focus to career specific topics.
“He’s looked over my resume for me and helped me network. And when I get a job offer, he’s able to talk that through with me and make sure I’m considering everything that he maybe hadn’t considered when he first started out.
“From a career standpoint, that was everything that I was expecting and hoping for, but on the other hand, because of how we started out, he’s been able to refer back and say ‘These are your top three values, and I can tell you right now that this job would not align with them.’
“I didn’t realize how much my personal values aligned with deciding what I wanted to do with my career, so I’m really grateful I decided to join the mentoring program. I consider him not just a mentor but a friend now.”
Kaylee and her mentor continue to meet regularly for structured discussions around career goals.
Do you have a mentoring story? Tell us about it! You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.