The Power of Mentoring - Tips for Mentors and Mentees
Diana Day PhD is an independent career consultant providing career mentoring, coaching and counselling to professionals, executives and students. She is also a scientist and governing board member. Diana was formerly a member of the CDAA NSW Division Committee.
Mentoring can be a formal or informal arrangement between two people with a more experienced and ideally senior independent leader, working with a less experienced mentee. Formal mentoring programs are available within many professional organisations, and across all sectors.
The mentoring relationship needs to be one of respect, empowerment and open communication. The aim is to support mentee career development and work achievement, and to pass on mentor experience and knowledge. A mentee can expand on skills development in an industry, establish a broader professional network, learn to engage across sectors, and even get a handle on managing their work program and work relationships.
Mentoring supports professional development
Having a non-linear career in earth and water science, public administration, boards, consulting and career coaching has given me a great perch for mentoring many students and young people and indeed the not so young. Up and down and across the career universe I have worked with the highly trained, the student just managing, the ‘big shot’ scientist, and the HSC graduate.
As a mentor, I have been able to share my experience across industries, expand my professional network and support many postgraduate students and staff. I have also been invigorated and learnt a lot by participating as a mentor.
My Tips for Mentors
- Let your mentee know about your background and experience and what you can offer early on. It may be that your mentee has been matched with you in a more formal program.
- What are your mentee development plans and goals? Discuss those early and plan a simple guide for the future. What are the mentees prime goals? How often should you meet? And for how many months?
- Boost mentee confidence and agency. Do what you can to enhance mentee confidence in themselves as a person and in their work whether the issues are angry bosses, networking, how to find resources or how to widen their engagement with the world.
- Goal posts shift. Remember that mentee goals often change over time so you need to check in with your mentee that the goal(s) stand. Believe me, they might be reluctant to tell you the goal post has shifted.
- Create comfortable non-scary meetings. Get organised and book in with your mentee regularly (monthly often is best). Don’t make it weird or formal. Meet them at coffee, have them set the agenda for discussion. NB you will be mainly listening and asking questions and offering some insights. Let them talk.
- What trade tools do you have? Support your mentee to use a private reflective work diary. This can record issues with training and learning, new ideas or thinking about concepts, or even brainstorming about future careers. This is for the mentee’s private use. As mentor it might benefit you starting a reflective journal as well.
- Use better questions. Let your mentee talk about their issues. Whatever their goal or target. Get them to tell you how they will do it. How they feel about it. The more they talk about concerns or goals the more you can ask how they might address them. I have had mentees (and me) surprised at their own suggestions, knowledge and solutions. From topics like workstream management, dealing with the usual difficult people, or making choices about anything.
- Unfreeze your mentee. Approaching people they don’t know but need to meet. Your job as mentor is to help your mentee learn more about networking and how to reach out and communicate with the range of industry or potential partners out there. It’s about boosting the mentee to overcome any natural reluctance to reach across workplaces and sectors, and it’s about helping with your greater network to facilitate some of these connections.
Mentees need to expand their networks and want ‘industry’ experience, but are not sure about how to do it. It is your role to step up and support at this time, to coach and share with confidence.
My Tips for Mentees
- Do you know your professional value? You need to better understand your value proposition as a professional. Work to understand how valuable you are in: learning, work, communication, achievements, research, consulting and teaching. Your mentor should contribute here.
What energises you the most about your work? What do you enjoy doing the most? What do colleagues tell you about your achievements? Show a trusted someone your CV and ask what is missing on your skills, attributes and achievements. Are there several reasonable people you can ask about what they see are your professional talents?
If someone wanted to pay you $1 million to harvest your best ideas and thoughts over an hour, what would you talk about? That would be a clue.
- Unsure of your career goals as a mentee? It is totally ok and maybe normal to be unsure of your career direction as a secondary or tertiary student, postgraduate or as anyone really. We all know the many careers and jobs for us story and reality. However degrees of uncertainty lurk amongst many mentees and that’s where a mentor might help.
Talk about your thoughts with a mentor, attend diverse conferences, reflect on your issues in your diary, use the library, use that local career centre in tertiary education, work with a career practitioner. As a junior academic I was still unsure of my career direction so I got brave and talked to a range of (bemused) professors about what to do...At that stage it was an unusual query in academia.
I didn’t stop my self-questioning there and went to a good career consultant in the ACT as needed. Made reems of career direction notes and diaries. Did all that help? I am not sure but I liked the process. It cleaned up a few queries and I learned a lot of techniques to find out more about myself and careers and looking at skill preferences and how to put self-career exploration into action. It got me very interested in being a career practitioner.
Formal mentoring/mentee programs are worth it and vary incomplexity and oversight by organisations. For potential mentors and mentees it is always worth trying one out.