As part of your military-to-civilian transition and career development, engaging with a mentor is highly valuable. With millions of transitioning veterans seeking new employment or seeking better employment, mentoring is a critical system for career development, networking and long-term success. As stated by Veterati, a national veteran-focused mentoring platform, “Mentors introduce you to the 80% of job opportunities that exist only in personal networks.”
Most information on mentoring emphasizes the responsibilities and accountabilities of the mentor – the one offering the advice, counsel and connections. The mentee, however, has responsibility to extract and implement the guidance offered by the mentor as well.
Here are 10 ways that mentees can get the most benefit from their mentor:
- Be ready. When you enter a mentoring relationship, be clear about your goals, challenges, objectives and the time you can spend working this arrangement. When you are focused, and prepared for mentoring, the value of the experience and the skills, tools and resources you will access grow exponentially.
- Ask questions. Your mentor wants to help you, but he or she can only be effective if you ask the right questions. Don’t hesitate to ask what you perceive to be “dumb questions.” If they are real and important to you, ask the questions. As you learn about the capabilities of your mentor, you should inquire about their career path, goals, successes and failures. Mentors want to share what is relevant and helpful to you. Having clear questions helps your mentor help you.
- Show vulnerability. A mentoring relationship should be based on honesty, trust and authenticity. You do not have to be a super hero for your mentor! Let them see your hope, frustration, joy, and struggle so they can guide you through the feelings associated with a transition of this magnitude. Showing vulnerability is NOT a sign of weakness; you will show your humanity and value if you can express yourself genuinely.
- Listen, then learn. Don’t rush to assume you know where your mentor is headed when they start offering advice. Listen. Think. Question. And learn. Your mentor is here because they know and see things you haven’t experienced yet. Let them teach you by being open and accessible to new insight and information. If you meet every suggestion with resistance, you aren’t taking advantage of the wisdom of your mentor.
- Stay flexible. The more fluid the mentoring relationship, the more opportunities your mentor can identify to help you grow and learn. If you can remain open minded and flexible to their suggestions, counsel and referrals, you will learn much more.
- Ask for referrals. During a discussion with your mentor, if they offer contacts or referrals, follow up on them. Don’t assume your mentor will remember to introduce you to their colleague – ask them to do so. Listen for gems of information and networking access, and follow up by asking for the referral.
- Ask hypotheticals. As you transition out of uniform, your experience in the civilian sector might be very limited. Instead of waiting until your mentor offers guidance on a possible scenario, ask them! Pursue, “what if” options you might encounter during a networking meeting, job interview, career challenge. Role playing can be very productive when preparing for a career change.
- Do your homework. If you and your mentor agree you will follow up with a contact, re-work your resume, or update your online profiles, be sure you complete the assignment. Mentors often express frustrations when their mentee fails to hold up their end of the relationship and doesn’t follow up or complete tasks that are mutually agreed upon.
- Stay in touch. Your mentor wants to know how their advice is working. They want to know how you are doing in your transition and in your new career. You are not pestering them by updating them on your progress and staying in touch. Even if your work with your mentor slows down, continue to let them know how you are doing and where the work you did with them is making a difference.
- Express gratitude. Being a mentor is an unpaid position. Mentors serve because they care and believe they can make a difference in your life. Reward them with gratitude, often. From a personalized handwritten note, to an email sharing success stories, to a phone call or coffee meeting to check in, your mentor needs to know you care about the input and advice they offer.
The mentor/mentee relationship is a treasured commodity in career success. If you are fortunate enough to find a mentor who provides you with advice, counsel and information to build your career, you have given yourself the gift of a lifetime.