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What could a student or junior employee possibly offer their mentor in return?

Mentees often come to the relationship with a specific need, such as an introduction, recommendation, answer or job opportunity, but struggle to determine what they bring to the table themselves. From the perspective of a young person at the beginning of their career, it might feel impossible to return such a significant favour. In reality, mentors always learn and grow themselves simply through the act of taking time to lend a helping hand to someone starting out.

I connected with Pragashini Fox, senior vice-president of talent management with Thomson Reuters, to build this four-step resource to help both parties create a successful career mentoring relationship.

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Step One: Set Goals and Openly Share Them

Mentor-mentee relationships often begin with a few goals. According to Fox, mentees shouldn’t be shy about explaining what they hope to gain out of the relationship; nor should mentors hold back on what they hope to learn themselves. These objectives can actively change and evolve, but the mentee should start with at least two to three career goals.

“The relationship starts with articulating and understanding what the mentee is looking to achieve in their career through mentoring,” she says. “When you’re a mentee, sometimes you don’t even know where to start, and that’s totally fine, but even to say ‘I have no idea,’ that’s okay. Just communicate what you’re looking to get out of it, even if it’s ‘I don’t know, but can we talk through it?’”

Defining those goals early helps keep future conversations on track, and allows the mentor to be more effective in their assistance. That initial conversation should also include some discussion of what the mentor hopes to learn through this process.

Step Two: Establish Meeting Boundaries

In order to facilitate a mutually beneficial relationship it’s important to set up a few ground rules, especially during the pandemic.

“The downside to the pandemic is now everybody calls all the time, so I think a good frequency is once every two or three months for an hour, 45 minutes even,” she says. “Sometimes with mentors I think it’s also good to have an end point too. If things go well you can keep going, but I think it’s always good to say this is a 12-month relationship.” Have an open and honest dialogue about how often you’d like to meet. It’s common to meet more frequently if you’re working through something specific, such as a career change, or every one to two months to more generally meet and learn from each other.

Step Three: Follow Through

As time goes on it’s important for the mentee to take responsibility for following the advice that’s provided to them, and to offer updates. This is commonly missed by mentees who tend to be passive or intimidated. It is the mentee’s ultimate responsibility to initiate the meetings, schedule them with a calendar invite and follow through.

According to Fox, mentors appreciate being kept in the loop and seeing how their time and energy is making an impact in the lives of those they assist.

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“Between meetings, show follow-through on items that were discussed in the previous meeting,” she advises. “It’s very important to show that time spent on the relationship is adding value.” It’s best practice to note down recommendations a mentor gives you, then follow-up on these action items to show the mentor that you’re listening. Even if it wasn’t successful, did you try? Did you learn anything? Sharing this follow-through keeps your mentor engaged.

Step Four: Provide Active Feedback

Everybody is learning and getting comfortable in a mentoring relationship. It’s okay to ask for feedback and give feedback to keep the relationship growing. One of the best ways for mentees to offer value to their mentors is by providing feedback that can help them improve interactions with others in the future.

“Tell them where they were able to add value, where they can do better and what you appreciate about them,” she says, suggesting that mentees shouldn’t be shy about sharing some advice of their own. “Building a reciprocal relationship doesn’t mean you have to do something for me directly; it’s all about learning and information sharing.”

Dave Wilkin is a serial entrepreneur and founder of TenThousandCoffees.com – an award winning virtual mentoring and career development technology.

This article supports Ten Thousand Coffees as part of national career month. In partnership with Canada’s major colleges and universities, Ten Thousand Coffees’ leading technology smart matches industry professionals to provide career mentoring and networking to students and recent grads. Ten Thousand Coffees is making virtual career conversations easy, find your school and sign-up for free today at tenthousandcoffees.com/schools

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.

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