You’ve managed to catch (and keep!) a quality mentor whom you like and respect.
The hard part isn’t finding a mentor. The hard part is learning from them. Your ability to understand what they’re saying and take action matters more than their magical presence. But there’s a reason why clickbait headlines and get-rich-quick scams still exist: no matter how much we say we’ll work, a tiny part of all of us wants the easy way out. We found a mentor, and now they can usher us to greatness.
When we think about making a change, we often think about external factors, when we should look inward. Whether you’ve been meeting for years or haven’t sat down yet, take the time to evaluate what you’re doing as a mentee–and what you can do differently.
To make greatness happen, no one can do it but you.
Here are 5 ways to be a better mentee.
Start Making Plans
Before you sit down, take the time to make a plan. “Do some reflection and self-assessment to be clear about what it is you want,” says Dr. Lois Zachary, author of The Mentee’s Guide. Without knowing how the relationship fits into your overall career goals, your conversations won’t be as meaningful.
Think of yourself like a company. Says Becky Levanger, Senior Marketing Manager at EMC, “Every company has a board of directors, and so I have created a board of directors of Becky.” Just as companies prepare for their board meetings, so should you. “Whether I’m meeting individually or as a group, I have a list of everything that’s happened, challenges I’ve experienced in the workplace and how I’ve faced them, what I think I could improve, and get their advice.”
To do this requires reflection…and a little legwork. Mentors generally look for “someone who is conscientious, who is committed, and who is eager to learn… [and] willing to do the work,” says Dr. Zachary. Ask yourself: where do you want to be in a year? 5 years? What skills do you need to learn? How can your mentor best guide you through your next career challenge? No matter what type of mentor you have, you need to know: why are you here?
Set Clear Expectations
Next, communicate that plan to your mentor. Set up specific expectations on meeting frequency, commitment, goals, and boundaries. Whether you grab coffee once a month or have formal meetings once a year, understand how you’ll interact with each other and what that means. Make sure you both know why you’re sitting in a room together.
“With [a new mentor] we had an initial conversation just to determine whether it would be a good fit,” says Levanger. “Then we assessed whether we should continue, and what changes needed to be made to make it more effective.”
Constantly evaluate whether both of you are getting what you need out of the relationship. Make sure you’re living up to your expectations. Whether you’re in a reverse mentorship, peer mentorship, or traditional relationship, laying out the ground rules (maybe even in writing) provides you a map with which to move forward.
Get To Know Them
A mentee-mentor relationship shouldn’t be transactional. They’re a person too, and if you want to make the relationship work, it’s important to get to know them outside of work. Ask about their lives, families, or hobbies. Take meetings over coffee, breakfast, or outside of the office. Make a connection.
“Remembering details and inquiring about them and what’s important about them helps you remember ‘Yeah, I’m a human being, and so are you,’” says Levanger.
Continue that process by asking for personal examples when you bring topics to the table. Rather than wax philosophical on an issue, make it practical. Says Levanger, “I always ask, ‘Do you have an example of a time you’ve had to deal with this or have you mentored someone who’s gone through this?’ That way you’re able to draw from a personal place. It tends to get to a deeper level of communication rather than remaining in the abstract.”
Your mentor is invested in you. Return the favor by staying invested in them. Says Dr. Zachary, “I love hearing from my old mentees. That’s the biggest payoff, to see how our relationship has helped them become who they want to be and do what they want to do.”
Even if they’re no longer your mentor, they’re part of your network and your success. Put them on your short list to get in touch once in a while.
Also read: Succeed by Focusing on Your Relationships
Be Open—And Actually Listen
You have two ears but only one mouth for a reason, as your parents probably used to tell you. To get your ears to work, be open and honest with your mentor. “As a mentee, if you show up and you put on a front, that’s not the real you,” says Dr. Zachary. “Your mentor ends up mentoring somebody else.”
We’re all concerned about putting on our best face at work. We don’t want to be known as someone who needs to ask for help because we think that makes us weak or stupid. Guess what? It’s just the opposite. The most successful people ask for help. They’ll know if you’re not being the real you.
“Sometimes we get so caught up in the stress of what’s going on [at work], that we forget that every job that we have is an opportunity to learn and grow so that we’re a good fit for future opportunities,” says Levanger. “I always try to include those opportunities in any mentor conversation.”
You wanted a mentor because they would help you, not so they’ll praise you. Allowing yourself to take the leap will make the relationship that much more worthwhile.
Get In The Driver’s Seat
To make things happen, no one is going to do it but you. As the mentee, you have to drive the relationship, not the mentor. Just like how there’s no Prince Charming to sweep you off your feet, there’s no mentor that can magically make you successful.
The best mentees use their mentor’s advice as a springboard to make things happen. It’s up to you to take charge of your career—so do it.