Have a methodology for your research:
Coming prepared means that you have done the appropriate amount of research in the right way. Now, this could be as simple as LinkedIn stalking or looking up articles on Google Scholar. Or, it could be deeper in that you understand your career path and want to match your experience with the people who have the career you want. In this case, mining the data will put you ahead of the game. Either way, a concrete research methodology is key to building your network and thriving as a mentee.
Respect your mentor's time as if it were your own.
Give plenty of notice if you need to reschedule or cancel a meeting and, most importantly, come prepared. Come with a plan, with goals in mind, and a reflective attitude. In an ideal scenario, you will be clear with the task at hand and let your mentors know (in advance) what you are there to learn and gain.
Don’t be afraid to drive the relationship.
Don’t be shy when reaching out, sharing your availability, and making time with your mentor, because often, as a mentee, you are more than likely in a better position to drive the relationship. If you don’t get a response back right away, don’t take it personally! Reach out again because, more than likely, your mentor has a lot on their plate. Also, don’t hesitate to reach out on a personal level and push for time over coffee (being mindful of COVID, of course). All of this should be done respectfully and within reasonable boundaries, so be careful not to overdo it; express your appreciation, take the initiative to plan your next meeting, and follow up with a thank-you email.
The Naïve Question: Often, the best questions will be naïve. I can’t tell you how many times I felt like I had a question that was not up to par, but ended up getting a long and insightful response from someone with more experience. Questions can range from how to use basic software like Excel to something like what your mentor hopes to gain from the meeting.
The Informational Question: Gathering information about your mentor and their career can help to build that initial rapport. This means you should come prepared. Make a generic list of questions you can pull out of your proverbial pocket and tailor them to your mentor. This shows you are sincerely interested and have done your background research.
The Challenge Question: Ask questions that have some stakes attached to them, such as what would they do in a particular challenging situation. "How do you make your boss happy when you know they're wrong?" Or, "How do you manage difficult personal situations in a professional environment?", which is something everyone must tackle.
The Reciprocal Question: Ask a question, such as "How can I be helpful to you?" or "How can this experience be mutually beneficial?" Try to turn the mentor-mentee dynamic into a genuine relationship.
How To Confidently Approach A Potential Mentor:
Avoid using informal language and err on the side of formality when composing an email, especially at first. Tell your mentor a bit about yourself and communicate that you want to give and not just take. Be sure to share ideas and ask for feedback on them.
How To Build Rapport:
Like any sprouting relationship, you want to look for similarities and compare your work styles and strengths with one another. Remember, while the gap between your careers may be large, the fundamental characteristics that make you a certain kind of worker may be similar. You also want to notice and appreciate your differences. This will help you find how you may complement one another and learn from one another. As Ellen Ensher, Professor of Management at Loyola University puts it, "Finding similarities helps you bond, determining your differences helps you grow."
Ultimately, the goal is not for your mentor to tell you what to do, but to provide the tools to make the right decisions for you. Mentorship need not be a top-down hierarchical process, but rather a collaborative and fruitful one for both parties. So as you begin your mentorship journeys, keep in mind that the person you are speaking with may have been in your shoes and, having walked in those shoes, has the tools to shepherd you on your journey. Take advantage of this opportunity. Start today by checking out our newest mentorship hub The Disruptors.