When I first began my networking journey, reaching out to mentors at the management or executive level was absolutely intimidating. As personable as they were and as eager as they appeared to help me on my career journey, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was wasting their time. This only served to worsen my nerves, and it took away from my ability to focus on this opportunity for career growth. Mentor meetings do not have to be this way!
In the following article, you will learn how to make the most of the precious and limited time you have to meet with your mentors with four simple (yet key) strategies. Let’s get started!
What are Mentor Meetings?
Before we dive directly into the strategies for taking your mentor meetings to the next level, it is probably a good idea to begin with what these meetings are. At their core, meetings with mentors are any time you have to interact in a one-on-one manner with your mentors. They can take many forms, from lunches to coffee breaks to conversations in their office. No matter where or when you meet, your mentor meetings are your key moments for conversations with managers, executives, and leaders.
Okay, so just what makes these meetings so important then? Well, let’s find out.
Why are Mentor Meetings Important?
In case you missed one of our first articles, let’s review just what makes having mentor relationships so important to developing your professional network:
While networking with peers is important, networking with mentors grants the following benefits:
- Exposure to middle-management and senior leadership – Your mentors will ultimately be made up of leaders at all levels of the management ladder
- Advice on career development – From recommendations on growing areas of the business worth working in to suggestions on key competencies to develop, mentor relationships offer key knowledge for career development
- Insight on new opportunities within the business – Over time, maintaining lasting relationships with mentors will certainly yield rewards in career development and advancement as they help keep you in-tune with job opportunities
These are just several of the many benefits of networking with mentors. For more information, be sure you don’t miss our two-part article series on the “how” and the “why” of networking in the digital age:
Now that we’ve reviewed the basis of what mentor meetings are and why they are important to your career, it’s time to review the four strategies to getting the most out of these conversations.
Strategy 1: Set a Regular Meeting Cadence
The first strategy we will discuss to maximize the effectiveness of your mentor meetings is both simple and yet so often forgotten: Set a regular meeting cadence!
Maybe you feel that this is easier said than done, and that’s understandable. As a young professional myself, I absolutely understand the apprehension that can come with preparing to send that calendar notice to a senior director asking half an hour out of their busy schedule.
Here are a few reasons why you should set a cadence for mentor meetings:
- Cadences keep both parties involved – A standing monthly or quarterly calendar notice takes away the awkwardness of repeatedly reaching out to your mentor and asking if they have time for lunch or coffee
- Meeting regularly prevents mentorships from fizzling out – While I wouldn’t suggest you should keep a relationship going if it is simply not benefiting either party, I would suggest that these relationships are kept alive by consistent (even if infrequent) contact
- Scheduled interactions allow you to prepare for meetings – I love seeing a monthly or quarterly meeting with a mentor approach on my calendar, as it serves as a reminder to reflect on what questions or topics I would like to discuss in our next encounter
So what is the best way to establish a cadence to your mentor meetings? Simple, just ask! No, seriously – It just takes one frank conversation to understand your mentor’s availability and your own desire for meeting frequency. Work together to establish a monthly or quarterly conversation.
Strategy 2: Prepare Notes on Your Current Projects, Skills, and Accomplishments
Our second strategy isn’t meant to sound like a humble brag, but it does involve advocating for yourself. The next time you meet with your mentor, be prepared to talk about what you’re working on! Share the status of projects, skill development, and recent accomplishments in your mentor meetings.
Let’s look at a few reasons why this is important:
- Mentors can help you identify your skill gaps – By talking about your current skills (or developing skills), you can help your mentors evaluate what skill gaps still remain for your professional development
- Mentors can help you identify developmental roles – In my current company, there are several roles considered to be”pre-requisites” for future leadership roles, and without the support of my mentors I would have had no idea otherwise
- You can use your mentors to build your career brand – Let’s face it, managers and executives talk! By sharing your recent accomplishments you can help ensure that your name is spoken of in high regard in the upper echelon
We’re half-way there! Now let’s take a look at our third strategy.
Strategy 3: Prepare Questions for Your Mentor
The third strategy to owning your next mentor meeting is the natural complement to talking about yourself: Prepare questions to ask your mentor! Mentors are an excellent way to promote your own accomplishments and career growth, but they are an equally amazing resource to learn from!
Here are several of the many categories of questions you could prepare for your next mentor meetings:
- Questions about company culture – Any individual in a leadership role should have excellent insight on company culture and expectations of its young professionals and future leaders
- Information about developmental opportunities – One of the earliest exposures I had to this privy information was from a department director in my first rotation, who was kind enough to recommend several roles I would do well to avoid in the future
- Recommendations about expanding your manager/executive network – Not all of your mentors will necessarily be in your same department or function, and that’s okay! One of my first mentors worked in an entirely different area of the business, but she was able to connect me with a key leadership figure closer to my function
We’re ready to move on to our fourth strategy to knocking your next mentor meetings out of the park!
Strategy 4: Give Back to Your Mentors
Our fourth and final strategy for getting the most out of your mentor meetings revolves around the importance of reciprocating. Now I don’t want to sound cynical in saying this, but it’s true: Mentors want to benefit from your relationship too!
This doesn’t mean that your mentors aren’t genuine in their desire to offer support and guidance in your career development. However, for managers and executives there is a competency in its own right revolving around mentoring others. This gives you the unique opportunity to make your mentors look good in front of their peers and their own mentors whenever the chance arises!
In case you don’t know where to start, here is one fantastic idea to give back to your mentors that I have used personally: Invite your mentor to a big presentation or report-out. At the end of the first rotation in my leadership development program, I had the opportunity to invite two of my mentors to attend.
During my presentation (in front of key business leaders) I made sure to acknowledge their impact on my learning and development both on my slides and in my presentation. This was a simple but effective way to acknowledge my appreciation for my mentors’ time, and to do so in front of key players in their own careers.
Growing your network and creating lasting relationships with mentors is one of the most challenging and yet most rewarding parts of your early career. This makes it all the more important to pay special attention to the first mentorships you begin to develop!
These four strategies will be instrumental to giving each meeting with your mentors the greatest impact possible. So what are you waiting for? Reach out and schedule your next mentor meeting and put these strategies to work today!
Did you learn something new about the art of networking with mentors? Do you have strategies of your own that have helped you get the most out of mentor meetings? Share in the comments below!