The Mentor Match

Photo by  Ian Schneider  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to be a Dream Mentor at General Assembly, which paired me with a successful, young professional that I would mentor for the entire year.

I felt a bit of imposter syndrome being considered someone’s "dream mentor." Nevertheless, I humbly accepted the role, and it's been a joy to see my mentee, Christine, soar in her career. The remarkable thing about my mentor/mentee relationship is that Christine and I are pretty different -- we don’t look alike, we come from different backgrounds, and different industries. At the end of the day though, we both know what it’s like to be women in the workplace working to secure our seat at the table. Mentors don’t always have to look like you!

Often, I receive emails from young women asking me to serve as their mentor. I remember what it’s like being their age, admiring so many women from afar, and wanting to tap into their magic. Heck, there are many women today that I consider mentors in my mind. They have no idea who I am (yet) -- I admire their business acumen and the way they choose to show up in the world. Sometimes we are lucky enough to connect with our role models, and other times we have to take notes from afar. (In our careers, we should all strive to be both mentors and mentees!) There are times I am not able to meet with everyone face to face who reaches out to me, but I try to make myself available via some medium.

Today, I want to share answers to the top five questions I receive around mentor and mentee relationships.

1. What resources are available to people seeking a mentor?

We live in a digital age, and thus have access to people all over the world. There are resources like LinkedIn, Meetup, or professional clubs and organizations to meet people in your field or other areas of interest. Utilizing these resources can serve as a first step to finding a mentor.

2. How should you reach out and establish a mentor/mentee relationship?

I think the standard misconception about mentor/mentee relationships is the need to always formalize them. Some mentor/mentee relationships can be established organically -- and through your interactions, it creates an unwritten partnership. There are people in my network that I consider to be my mentors because they invest in me and provide me advice, although we have never formally verbalized it.

If you prefer something more formal and structured, you can officially ask someone to work with you, or ask if you can connect quarterly for strategy sessions. Sometimes using the word “mentor” can overwhelm someone who has a lot of their plate, but if you make it easy for them to guide you, then it’s a win-win situation.

3. What kind of qualifications are important?

In my opinion, two essential qualifications are necessary to be a good mentor. One, be a good listener, and two, be present. Your mentee is looking to you for guidance, so it’s important that you create space and time to listen to their concerns, and be emotionally and mentally available to provide them the best feedback. Don’t take on a mentee if you don’t have time to invest in their success!

4. What makes for a good mentor/mentee match?

A good mentor/mentee match should be based on a variety of factors. In my personal experience, I sought out mentors that were diverse in age, gender, and race. Each of my mentors bring a unique skillset and perspective based on the areas where I need guidance. There doesn’t have to be one-size fits all model for mentor/mentee relationships. I found the best matches occurred when I built a diverse group of mentors and mentees.

5. Once they've made a connection with a potential mentor, how does a mentee set the parameters of the relationship regarding what they're hoping to learn?

I believe establishing expectations early on for your mentor/mentee relationship is essential to achieve ultimate success. When I met with my new mentee, the first thing I asked her to think about were the following:

-What do you want to gain from our interactions?  
-How often would like to communicate?  
-What are your short and long-term goals?

As a mentor, I would do my mentee a disservice by assuming that I know exactly what she needs. Knowing what her expectations are ahead of time allows to me to assess her needs and provide the best guidance to move her career forward.

As women of color, we often work in companies where our mentors and mentees don’t always look like we do. If you have the opportunity to mentor a young woman, invest in her. Drop her a jewel she can hold onto as she takes her seat at the table.