I have been privileged to be part of mentorship programs from varying perspectives, from being a mentee, mentor, to an organizer. The first time I took part in a mentorship program was in 2017 as a mentee. It was at a time when I was looking to transition from Academia to Industry and I wanted to network and get guidance in my transition process.
I got matched to a lady who was the head of an IT department at a transportation company. Although the relationship didn’t last long, she gave me valuable insights that I still carry with me today. She helped me improve my cover letter as well as my CV by pointing out that I needed to always communicate value and results rather than listing the responsibilities that I had. And to try as best as I could to put that value in numbers, which was not an easy thing to do with academic positions.
That additional perspective plus experience is what mentorship programs offer. Mentorship programs, when done well, allow you to reflect on how you work and find ways to improve yourself.
Fast forward to 2020, I am now part of another mentorship program, an internal program at my workplace that is meant for all the Fellows (F-Secure employees) across all the different units and offices where we operate. In this program, I got to participate as an organizer, a mentor, and a mentee. I learned something new and valuable in each of those roles and I wanted to share some of these learnings.
Naturally, both the mentee and mentor have to be ready to commit to the process. It usually helps to have a written agreement signed by both to show this commitment. Once you do decide to commit, here are some tips or guidelines.
As a Mentee:
- Understand that you are the driver of the relationship. It’s your responsibility to set up the expectations, arrange the mentoring meetings, the meeting frequency, etc.
- Understand that the mentor is not there to do the work for you. You are responsible for your development. This means you should also say when it’s not going well.
- Set a realistic goal and communicate it well to the mentor. I find it useful and more valuable to set a goal that challenges you and will have an impact on you once you go through the program. For example, as I shared earlier, I had the goal of transitioning from academia to industry. This was a challenging goal which has had a huge impact on my career .
- Depending on the length of the program, break that goal into few manageable and measurable objectives and try to tackle one at a time over one or two meetings. In my last mentoring program, which lasted over 5 months, I had 3 objectives and the mentor also had 3 objectives. And we tried to tackle one objective in each meeting.
- Prepare for the meetings, that way you and the mentor get the most out of the meetings. Even though the meetings can have the atmosphere of a casual chat rather than a serious meeting, preparing a focus for each meeting helps in achieving the objectives. I usually agreed on the agenda of the next session at the end of each meeting. Preparing or giving a purpose to each meetup also reduces the common feeling of meetings of “I am wasting the mentor’s time”.
- Lastly, try to include personal topics for discussion and fun activities, this way you will get to build a more open and trustful relationship.
As a Mentor:
- As a mentor, you are usually there to guide and not be a problem solver. It’s easy especially for technically orientated persons to be problem solvers, but the idea is to help your mentee figure out the solution. This is also where good listening skills come in handy.
- Put in the effort and take time to also prepare. You shouldn’t be too comfortable that you are the one with the knowledge and that you are just going to pass it on. It’s best to learn how your mentee learns and adapt your guiding process to them. You have to learn how to transition from being an expert to a leader.
- Get rid of the imposter syndrome – I remember when someone asked me to be a mentor, my first thought was “was I qualified enough to be someone’s mentor?” and I have heard many mentors ask themselves this. Key is to be confident that you are in the position you are in for a reason and that you have something to contribute to a person who wishes to grow. Have healthy confidence in your abilities.
- Have and show empathy – Be able to put yourself in your mentee’s shoes and see whether the advice you give relates to that person. For instance, if your mentee is in some way disadvantaged it doesn’t help to tell them,” work hard”, without taking into account or discussing the existence of possible structural barriers that prevent that person from advancing as they would like, no matter how hard they work.
- Lastly, set your own objectives in the program. I feel that that helps build a more mutually beneficial relationship.
I just also recently started participating in another mentorship program. This one is a cross company program where people from different companies are paired together. Under this program, I will be focusing on developing myself as a more valuable and insight-focused data scientist (more on that to come) and I will surely be applying many of the above tips.
Write and let us know what other tips you have.