I’ve been mentoring people for IT roles for a long time. At first, these were friends or work colleagues who were asking me some job related questions. When I started this blog, I got more systematic about finding mentees—I need more contact with people similar to my readers so that I can write relevant articles. In the past six months, I’ve met with about 10 people. With some, it was a one-off consultation; with others, we continued for some time. In this article, I share my current collaboration plan to make sure mentees can progress with their goals and that our time is spent efficiently.
What is mentoring
For me, mentoring is about creating an opportunity for guided self-learning. By “guided”, I mean that you can review every step with somebody with more experience to double-check that it indeed makes sense. Likewise, it’s “self-learning” because it doesn’t change the fact that it’s the mentee who has to put in the work.
What mentoring is not
As a mentor, I won't:
- keep you accountable for your learning—you ask me questions or follow my advice when you have time for it. If it takes a long time—that’s fine with me. I don’t need explanations or excuses.
- motivate you—I can explain to you how learning some material will help you achieve your goals, but that’s all.
- take responsibility for the results—I give my advice and my time, but I cannot guarantee that everything will work out. Even with paid services of a similar kind, there is no way to ensure that everything will go well—such as that, for example, salary negotiation will not go poorly.
Benefits of mentoring
So, how exactly can mentoring help you?
Time dedicated to think about your career
Probably the biggest impact of mentoring is in spending time thinking about your career. Just explaining your current situation and the options available to you can help a lot. Similarly, just as explaining your programming issue to a teddy bear can give you the clarity to fix it yourself, you can expect a similar effect when thinking about your career.
Avoid second-guessing your decisions
When I’m not completely convinced about my approach for a given problem, I like discussing it with someone else. Usually, the other person brings a new perspective, and makes it easier to commit to the decision we reach together.
I expect the same result for mentees: when your mentor explains to you all the benefits of learning one thing, it should be way easier to just focus on your studies and avoid paralysis by analysis.
Source of new ideas
Finally, mentoring can lead to original contributions from your mentor. Thanks to their experience, they should be able to see some possibilities you were not aware of. With my mentees, they often contact me with very technical ideas—learning a framework or a language; but after discussing their situation, I often recommend things on an entirely different level:
- improving their English,
- developing some salary negotiation skills,
- taking it slower with their learning and chilling out a bit, or
- looking around for other job opportunities.
How to start a productive collaboration
So let’s take a look at how to start an effective mentorship collaboration.
Even before you find a mentor, you can start doing your homework. First, let’s figure out and write down the following:
- your goals—what would you like to achieve with your mentor? You can think about the timeframe as well: some goals will require more time, and having the dates set up will help identify the ones that are overly ambitious.
- plans for how to achieve them—hopefully, you’re working on your goals in some way already, or at least you have a pretty clear plan for how to start. Write these plans down so your mentor can review them.
Establish the relationship
Connect with your mentor and ask them to establish the relationship. If you come with your homework done correctly, it will make it easy for the potential mentor to see whether they can help you. If you’re lucky, maybe someone in your current company will be happy to help. Otherwise, you can check some free or paid platforms that connect potential mentors with mentees.
For the mentoring I’m offering, I have a profile on free mentoring platform Coding Coach. I offer it because mentoring is rewarding in itself, and it gives me ideas for other articles for this blog.
After reading what the mentee has written about their plans, I like to set up a video call to meet in a more personal way and build some trust. It’s necessary to meet after I read the summary of the goals and plans of the mentee, as these objectives are the most important information we will be discussing. Thus, either I read it on my own time, or most of our meeting will be spent on filling up the gaps.
Keep in sync
After the initial conversation, there should be many new ideas or much bigger commitment to the original plan—in short, plenty of work for the mentee. After some time, you can share updates via email, such as:
- summaries of how it goes with implementing your plan—it’s always nice to get a follow-up from a mentee and learn how plans we developed are working out.
- updates to your plan—as you learn new things and change your priorities, the plans will need to be updated from time to time. It would be nice to update the mentor on what you’re doing too, and, if needed, maybe set up another meeting with them to discuss the current ideas.
In this way, for the long-term contact, the initiative is on the mentee’s side. I think this is the correct approach because it’s the mentee who has to put all the effort into execution plans—and, ideally, they who receive the most benefits.
I’m never bothered by my mentees getting quiet for a long time—they have different obligations. Learning takes time, and often there is not much change from week to week, or from month to month. It’s pretty normal to go quiet for some weeks or months—no apology or excuse is needed. As a mentee, feel free to restart the contract, even if you were silent for a very long time.
Share your story!
How about you? I would love to learn your stories! How did you benefit as a mentee? What motivates you as a mentor?