Seven Tips to Make the Most of Close Mentorship
You’re under someone’s wing, but now what? Develop a deliberate approach to being a successful mentee.
“I know I'm capable of doing great things, but I’m not sure how to start. If only I had a mentor!” This is a common refrain from talented early-career folks.
Mentors are, indeed, transformative. I’ve seen a lot written about how to be an effective mentor, or how to find and pursue a mentor suited to you. But what about how to be an effective mentee, once the relationship is secured?
Close mentorship is enormously valuable to anyone trying to make gains and fine-tune their skills. A core aspect of the Apprenticeship and Internship programs we offer at Viget is the attention and support of a dedicated Advisor. We provide a willing, eager mentor and essentially say to apprentices and interns, “Come. We’ll take you under our wing. You’ll learn so much. It’s going to be magical.”
I want to take some of the mystery out of the magic of close mentorship. I want future interns and apprentices come into our programs with a plan for how to get a ton of value out of the experience. Here are seven tips for how to be a successful mentee.
Demonstrate that you’re enthusiastic about learning from your advisor. Don’t be concerned with being impressive or well-liked; focus on being respectful, curious, but most of all engaged. Your mentor will probably respect you immediately if you can demonstrate your eagerness to work hard and learn a lot.
A common frustration for a mentor is when a mentee doesn’t seem as serious about learning as the mentor feels about teaching. Demonstrate your intent to learn and retain information by taking notes, bookmarkings links, keeping a training log, maybe even drafting a blog post or two about the process. Think about not only retaining the info, but making that process somewhat visible to others so they aren’t left to wonder.
Don’t just demonstrate that you’re working to retain what you’re learning — put it into practice as soon as possible. If you’re a Project Manager Apprentice, for example, and you’ve learned how to generate status reports, ask if you can generate the next batch yourself. Do your best work, of course, but anticipate that you’ll make mistakes. Learn from the mistakes and try the task again soon. As you improve, look for ways to help your advisor. By taking things off her plate, you’re getting more practice, she’s seeing more evidence of your progress, and you’re lightening her load.
Make peace with your inexperience — you’re so new to this! — and get excited about the gift of feedback. Through trial, error, and persistence, you will make gains over time. But through close mentorship and constructive feedback, you can make huge strides. “How can this design be better?” “Could I have added more value to the discussion?” “How can I answer the client’s question more clearly?” Feedback isn’t personal critique — it’s a treasure. Seek it out and hold it dear.
It’s essential that you admit when you mess up, get stuck, or just don’t understand. This is an extension of being engaged — you’re demonstrating that you’re serious about learning. Most people find humility to be a positive trait, and your mentor may actually enjoy the opportunity to rescue you from being stuck. Don’t be reluctant to admit when you need help.
Soliciting feedback and asking for help are important, but it’s also important to respect other people’s time. Balance how involved your mentor is with some good old-fashioned self-direction and perseverance. Don’t ask questions before attempting to answer them yourself, and don’t ask for help unless you’ve struggled to solve the problem first. And if you hear the same feedback more than twice, an alarm should go off in your head. You need to put that feedback into practice ASAP.
Your advisor should know what you’re doing, how it’s going, and what blockers you have. Being a proactive communicator is part of being a good teammate, no matter your experience level. But when you’re “under the wing” of an advisor, be even more intentional about sharing your progress. Make it easy for your mentor and the other people around to know what you’re doing, even if it’s simply making expected progress.
I hope these seven tips shed light on how to best approach the unique circumstances of close mentorship. Most of these skills will serve you well throughout your career, even as you collect expertise of your own and begin to mentor others. If nothing else, I hope this post highlights that mentees should have a deliberate, thoughtful approach to learning, just as mentors should have to teaching.