What to look for in a mentor
I’ve seen and read a lot recently about needing a mentor, the value of being a mentee and who you should use and look up to and I just wanted to share the framework I lean toward every time I’ve mentored with the hope it might help you pick the best mentor for you, and get the most out of the experience.
What a mentor should be:
A mentor comes in many guises, it can be someone in your industry, but it also can be someone who is totally on the outside, some of the best experiences I’ve had have been totally opposite to what I do, as a designer and being paired up with someone from accounting sounds a disaster but it worked so well and also assisted in myself being clear about my job duties and where I wanted to go outside of the design bubble.
They should be someone who you can trust, you are going to share incredible secrets to them, you will share worries, dreams and issues.
Do they need to be incredibly successful and have a track record of being brilliant?
No. And I have to stress this, the most incredible mentors aren’t the best in their industry, they are the best enablers, they are the best supporters, they are empathetic, they are intelligent (emotionally) and also great communicators.
What should you expect from a mentor?
With the above helping you whittle down the many offers, what do you actually get from a mentor?
Time: I try to offer an hour every 2 weeks, it doesn’t sound a lot but with structure this is more than enough (I haven’t included random check-ins and quick Q & A sessions).
What support will I get?
This varies, but I think a good mentor should give you what you need, tailored support. Sometimes a lot is needed, other times it’s just a coaching process - stay silent as much as possible and I promise you the solution will talk it’s-self to the surface.
The big one is support that never stops, whether you need a mentor for 6 weeks, or 6months - you should expect support from now to when you really don’t need it anymore.
Mentor or friend?
Do you want someone who will support you as a friend or someone who will give it to you honestly? Personally, I try to aim for the middle - someone who will find all your worries and wants, but also handout a dab of honestly if/when needed, but in truth we all know what’s holding us back most of the time and it comes out early conversations.
How will you talk?
How will you communicate, is it over Skype, slack, WhatsApp, trello or smoke signals? The choice is endless, but finding this out early is key to keeping the comms flowing, I tend to go for slack for work chats (and growing a community vibe by using “channels” to allow the mentees support each other, trello to track work/convos and talking points (one private for notes that I’ve made and possible solutions, one shared with person for notes that we both can discuss and work/tasks).
Use a Framework!
If you have started using a mentor and it feels a little lapse, try to arrange a framework on tasks. Remember, it’s mostly one way, it’s on the mentee to keep going, the mentor should prod and check in for updates but won’t chase for things to be done.
I’ve mentioned it above but here is what to expect from me:
- The first meeting is key, using something like Gavin’s post as a starter means the conversation is all about you - a deeper understanding is key for us to know and work together (this isnt an interview),
- Arrange a catch up (at least) for approx 1 hour every 2 weeks,
- Regular quick checks (WhatsApp/slack to see if any blockers),
- Use Trello to list the to do’s so we both know what our aims are, and what the weeks tasks are,
- Don’t overwhelm both parties - a lot of “free” work isn’t fun, whatever the prize is, so go slowly and use motivation to your advantage,
- If we need a starting point - I have tasks I’ve set in the past in a library I have on Trello, so there is never a “we have nothing to do” moment,
- I set a reminder at the end of every month, where we review two CVs, your current one and your future one - what have we done and we do we need to do (this has proved to be so popular and effective),
- I use job listings that catch your eye (if known) and we see what they say to fuel the skills we need, or the tools we use.
Passing it on:
Hopefully you’ve had a brilliant experience being mentored, and if not that works too, why don’t you try passing it on - mentor someone and help someone who needs support, it’s one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done in my 17 years and will continued to do it.
I’ve mentored many in the past, and still check in on them now (some from over 8 years ago), I’m open at the moment for adding one or two to the team, if anything above sounds like it would help you - let me know with a simple email and we can chat more. With any initial contact, there is no pressure on the first contact, so it can be as short or indepth as you’d like. It’s a huge step we are both taking, so removing the big hurdle and just pressing send is the start, I look forward to hearing from you.