4 Tips to Be an Effective Professional Mentor

By Robert Half on February 2, 2021 at 12:20pm

Taking part in a professional mentoring program can be a rewarding learning experience, not only for the mentee but also the mentor. Improving interpersonal skills, growing leadership abilities and building the foundation for a long-term professional relationship are just some of the benefits.

Professional mentoring relationships can create upside for companies as well. Some examples include:

  • Increasing knowledge transfer between employees
  • Promoting upskilling
  • Motivating employees to pursue more professional development
  • Increasing teamwork across the organization
  • Improving employee retention
  • Furthering succession planning efforts

While executives and managers are most commonly viewed as strong candidates to serve as mentors, a job title is not necessarily an indicator of the ability to be an effective mentor. The best mentors are people who are naturally empathetic and enjoy the role of helping, listening to and sharing information with others.

If that describes you — and you have the time and interest to take on this important responsibility — there are several things you can do to make the experience a success for you and your mentee. Here are four tips for making a positive impact as a mentor:

1. Choose your mentee carefully

The purpose of a professional mentoring relationship isn’t always for a seasoned employee to impart knowledge to a new or less-experienced employee. That is a traditional arrangement, certainly, but there are others, too.

For example, you might have the opportunity to advise a more senior executive in a reverse mentoring arrangement. There’s also peer mentoring, where colleagues who work at similar levels in the organization pair up to share professional feedback and advice.

Whatever option is available to you, when becoming a professional mentor, take the time to select a mentee who you are confident would benefit from your insights and guidance.

Ask potential candidates, either in person or through a survey, about their professional interests and long-term goals. Also, ask your colleagues to recommend people — including those who work outside of your department or even your organization — who would find your mentorship valuable.

2. Stay engaged in the process

Becoming a professional mentor — and working to be an effective one — takes commitment. Making the experience positive for your mentee requires that you keep your responsibilities as a mentor in focus. You’ll probably find that’s easy to do during the initial weeks or months of the mentoring arrangement. But over time, as work demands rise and life inevitably gets busy, it can be all too easy to de-prioritize your mentoring duties.

You can avoid this problem through thoughtful planning. Set aside time in your regular schedule for specific mentoring activities. For instance, you might choose a day every month when you and your mentee can have a one-to-one meeting by video or phone to discuss progress on career goals or work-related issues the mentee is trying to navigate.

Depending on how busy you and your mentee are, you might want to get a little more granular with scheduling. You could set a reminder to send a quick email to your mentee every other Friday, for example, just to check in and find out how things are going.

3. Hold each other accountable

Part of becoming an effective professional mentor is opening and maintaining a two-way channel for communicating feedback. So, as you help guide your mentee, make sure to watch for improvement and follow up when appropriate. Ask your mentee to do the same with you. The more equal your partnership, the more mutually beneficial the mentoring relationship will be.

It can be valuable to set clear goals and discuss expectations from the outset of the arrangement. For example, consider asking your mentee questions such as:

  • What type of professional development do you hope to achieve through this experience?
  • What knowledge, skills and advice are you hoping I can impart to you?
  • How do you typically like to learn new information? (Note: How your mentee responds to this question will help you understand how best to tailor your communication approach.)

4. Consider creating a professional development plan

How detailed you want or need to be when outlining priorities and objectives for your mentee (and yourself) depends on the purpose, structure and expected duration of the mentoring relationship. But for any professional mentoring arrangement, you’ll want to decide how to track progress and measure success.

One approach is to create a personal development plan. Also known as a PDP, this plan outlines actions the mentee should take to grow as a professional, a realistic timeline for meeting key milestones, and details about any support or resources the mentee may need to tap to achieve outlined objectives.

Be sure to include the mentee in the process of developing this plan. This will help the mentee take ownership of their professional development and be more engaged in the mentoring experience overall. Most important, it will ensure that you set relevant and reasonable goals for the mentee.

Through professional mentoring, you can help a colleague advance or build more confidence as a professional. Or, you can assist a new hire with navigating their responsibilities and the organization’s corporate culture. You can also help an employee working remotely to feel more connected to the company and understand how their contributions make an impact.

One of the rewards of becoming a mentor is that you stand to be enriched by the experience, too. Professional mentoring gives the mentee an avenue to share their insights, ideas, experiences and unique perspectives with their mentor. In short, the mentor-mentee relationship can be a valuable learning and growth opportunity for both parties involved.

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