I already wrote about mentorship in one of my previous blogs (‘Pay it forward’). I am a big believer of both having a mentor and serving as a mentor for both your professional and personal development.
Having a mentor. There are usually two ways to get a mentor – (i) one gets assigned to you in your new role (usually from a different team/department so s/he has some detachment, objectivity and unbiased view from your day-to-day job) and (ii) you bump into someone more ‘organically’ (whether it is on your job or in a tram, as it happened to me). Both ways serve their purpose, but you are more likely to benefit more from the latter.
Assigned mentor can be helpful for helping you settle in the new role in the beginning. He knows the office environment, people, unwritten rules and policies. If s/he comes from a different team (as is usually the case), there is the benefit of being able to discuss your job or relationship with your direct boss with someone who does not have a vested interest. For example, it may be easier to get an advice on a mobility assignment from someone impartial rather than your direct boss who may not want to lose you.
The biggest drawback of the assigned mentorship relationship is the fact that you may not ‘click.’ The mentor may see it as a chore, rather than have a genuine interest in helping you grow. Your personalities or aspirations may be too different. And that’s where the ‘organic’ mentor comes in. In your life, you will come across people who have a genuine interest in seeing you grow and succeed, whom you greatly respect, and with whom you develop a special bond. These may be people from your job (current or previous), older alumni from your school, (older) family friends (or even more distant family members), or random people you meet at different occasions. They may not always call themselves mentors or even think about your relationship in that sense, but that does not matter and is usually even better, given your relationship will be more natural. I have been fortunate enough to have mentors from all of those categories above at different stages of my life, and I have benefitted greatly from their advice and experiences.
Ok, so you got the mentor – and now so what. There are no set rules and your interaction may take different shapes and forms, depending on your backgrounds, relationship, or location. Generally speaking, I would recommend regular interactions, whether in person or other means. I would seek opinion/advice on major career/education decisions, ask for introductions to relevant people, or just share an update on how I am doing or what I am thinking about (e.g. about considering writing this blog). I would also share interesting articles or recommendations for relevant books.
Being a mentor. You may not feel like being a mentor while you are trying to figure out your own career/life, but you may be ready earlier than you may believe. Once you are in your first job, there may be a high school student deciding on his/her university. Later on when you are at business school, there is someone who is thinking about his/her first job. It usually helps when you have done/gone through similar experiences as your mentee is going through, but I find mentorship to be much more about the mindset and thinking, rather than specific experiences.
There are three benefits why I enjoy serving as a mentor. First, it is very enjoyable and rewarding to see other people grow and maybe strive for more than what they had originally planned. At a couple of occasions, when my mentees thanked me (privately or publicly) for getting to their dream school or landing a dream job, I felt a great satisfaction of perhaps being a (small) part of that success. Second, once you are a mentor (the same as being a boss and having a direct report for the first time), it helps you to become a better mentee (or subordinate). Only then you see the relationship from the other side, you see what works, what does not, and how you can make the mentor/mentee (boss/subordinate) relationship most productive. Third, you will likely take away from your mentee as much as you give – your mentees may shape your own thinking; introduce you to new concepts; or connect you with new people. Your mentee(s) will likely go on to do interesting things in life, and your mentorship relationship will hopefully last and reward both of you. I started being a mentor for the first reason, and the other two came later/more naturally; it usually does not work the other way round – first be ready to give, and the rest takes care of itself.