I am a female mechanical engineer, and while we are desperately trying to change this, it is still a very male dominated field. I’m ok with that, I knew that going into…and let’s be honest, I’m not one to ever shy away from a challenge. I started with my current company almost eight years ago and didn’t really have a plan for where I wanted to grow and where I wanted to end up. My company puts a lot of effort into investing in their employees and one of the things they focus on are mentor/mentee relationships. I’ll share my professional journey in another post, but I wouldn’t be where I am today without my mentors.
What is a Mentor?
A mentor is a person who promotes, advocates, and is a resource for their mentee. I suggest having multiple mentors and ensure they have different roles at the company. You can do this through a formal relationship or an informal one …I have both. I highly recommend you choose someone who is not within your reporting line as you want to ensure you trust them so you can be completely honesT. Being honest is the only way this will help you grow. You should also be strategic in deciding who you want as a mentor. Make sure they are someone you respect and someone who you would like to emulate. It is also important to note that mentors will change as you grow, but the relationships you build will become invaluable during your career.
How to ask someone to be your Career Mentor
Most people aren’t comfortable asking someone they don’t know to be their mentor. If this is you, get someone you know, like your manager, to ask them. Odds are you work with someone who knows them, so have them talk to them first. My first suggestion would be to ask your manager or someone you are comfortable with at least one level above you. Your manager should be happy to do it because the more you grow, the better they look. There’s a misconception your manager will feel threatened. As a manager, my success is based off how successful my team is, so I’m happy to help them grow whenever I can.
If you don’t know anyone to ask them, send them an email. It is very flattering to have someone ask you to mentor them. Your email can like look something like this:
“ Hi X,
I am currently looking to grow in my career, specifically in the following areas…… As you have been successful in your career, I would like to know if we could meet for coffee or lunch and I could pick your brain. I would love to have you as a mentor.
Please let me know and I can schedule some time for us.
Thank you in advance for your time.”
At the first meeting, you can set ground rules for how the relationship will work.
Initial Meeting with Your Career Mentor
During the initial meeting, the two of you are really going to see if you click. Unfortunately, I have seen mentees and mentors that don’t click and it just doesn’t work out. You should come prepared with an overview of your current role, some areas in which you want to try to improve, and why you thought they could potentially be a good mentor. Be prepared for them to ask you where you want to go with your career. This simple question could determine whether they are the best mentor for you. Don’t be discouraged if they suggest someone else; it could be that that person has more insight into the path you want to go.
You also want to set the ground rules. This is crucial in establishing a meaningful relationship. Decide how often you will meet, how you prefer to communicate with each other, who sets up the meetings and how the meeting will look.
Now that you have set the ground rules, it’s time to start the meetings.
Ongoing Meetings with Your Career Mentor
I have had mentors where we meet every month, some once a quarter, and some as often as he is in town. You need to be flexible with your mentors as this is a volunteer effort they are doing in conjunction with their everyday work. The one thing all my mentor meetings had in common, we always went to lunch. I have found this is much easier to schedule and I tend to be more relaxed, which works very well for me as far as opening up goes.
At every meeting, I try to focus on one or two themes I’ve been struggling with. They range drastically. At times it has been personnel issues, communication issues with my boss, trying to figure out how to decide which meetings were most important, engaging employees, and looking over strategic plans for my team. The point is to come with real issues and have them written out beforehand. Next, you should ask them for a few action items you should try or habits you should practice. This will setup the discussion for the next meeting. I also always ask my mentors for feedback on how the meeting went, what I could have done better to be more prepared, and how they think I handled situations I shared with them.
From there, I always start the meeting with reviewing the action items I had and sharing how it went and then move to my next topic I’m struggling with. There is no perfect way to outline a mentor relationship, but I have found that this method works really well for me.
Now that you know how to create a mentor relationship, click here to learn about my mentors and how they helped me.