Guest Editor - Natasha Miller Williams

As a mentee, gaining insight from someone with more experience is a surefire way to reach your professional goals quickly. But what do mentors get out of it? What motivates them to devote time and energy from their own careers to help someone else?

For the mentor, the return on their investment is their mentee’s growth. Great mentors value relatonship building and helping others learn from their past experiences. Mentors take pride in their protégés, considering their mentee’s success a reflection of their own. The best mentees recognize this and present themselves in a way to make a mentor their greatest ally.

Bad mentees lack focus and initiative, failing to listen or apply anything they learn. Rather than thinking through what they can get out of the relationship, bad mentees approach mentoring like a checklist: schedule a meeting, give an update, ask a question, schedule the next date. It becomes a transactional experience, not a relational one. Ironically, great mentors won’t hesitate to ditch or deprioritize a mentee who’s not taking advantage of the relationship.

So, how do you become the mentee every mentor wants to invest in? Here are five ways to increase your mentee equity:

1.  Set clear goals. What do you want out of the experience and why do you need a mentor? Articulate your objectives: both those for your career, and those with your mentor. If you’re working with investors on a product or service, you know your long-term vision for the brand. In this case, you’re the brand, so make it clear that you have a vision.

2. Come prepared. After establishing goals, prepare for your first mentoring session by having an agenda. Start each session saying, “Here’s what I hope we can accomplish today.” Your mentor will realize you respect her time and will help you get the most out of it. Time is your mentor’s capital. Don’t waste it. Keep in mind, don’t be overly scripted, as some of the most valuable feedback happens on the fly.

3. Listen. Nothing is more frustrating than a mentee who won’t heed the mentor’s advice. After seeing you not following suggestions, your mentor will become frustrated. Demonstrate your active listening by revisiting prior topics. Expect your mentor to want to know “what happened with that thing you last discussed” and be sure to express how their advice was useful. You may not always see eye to eye with your mentor, but you are trying to learn from their experience.

4. Pay back your investor. Mentors still in the workforce are managing their own careers while helping you with yours. Be interested and supportive of their work by asking questions like “What are you working on?” or “How can I help?” Or send helpful articles. These small gestures demonstrate your interest in the relationship beyond your own personal gain.

5.  Be grateful. Say thank you frequently. Skip the “send” button in lieu of a handwritten note. Everyone likes to feel valued, and your tangible expression of how thankful you are for their time and ideas will endear you to a mentor even more. Gratitude is your currency, so be generous.

We all need a little help at times, and mentors are an excellent source to get you through the learning pains of the job. Choose your mentors carefully. Look for a person you can trust, speak up and ask for help without shame. Offer some good perspective in return and you’ll form a mutually rewarding mentoring relationship.

Mentoring is a joint venture. Mentors want a return on the time spent with you and point to your success as a sign of their own. Your growth will make your mentor glad to have you as a mentee and you’ll both feel as though you’ve profited.

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