Mentoring For The First Time? 14 Tips To Start Off On The Right Foot

Mentoring For The First Time

Being asked to mentor someone can feel like an honor—but it can also feel overwhelming and intimidating, especially if you’ve never had a mentee before. You might question whether you’re even qualified to guide this person in their life or career. However, every expert must start somewhere.

Here’s how they recommend becoming a successful role model to your new mentee.

1. Get To Know Your Mentee Well

Get to know your mentee. Ask them a lot of questions. Take the time to take note of what makes them tick. What are their challenges? Goals? How can you support them? It’s easy to want to tell someone what to do, but that’s not your role as a mentor. The more you get to know them, the more you can build on the foundation of a successful and productive relationship.

2. Understand What The Mentee Wants To Learn

As a first-time mentor, get to the core of what your mentee wants to learn. Mentors sometimes fall into the trap of doing more talking than listening. Understand why they picked you. What do they see in you that they want to develop? Talk about those objectives and then invite them to prepare the next time you use that skill. For example, they love your presentation style. Work on it together!

3. Help With The Little Things

Often mentors want to provide big insights and give general advice. The best mentors are willing to help with little things that are actually big things. Mentors should be willing to speak to the mentees about how to craft an appropriate email, create a great presentation in PowerPoint and how to dress for different events. Mentors who are willing to get in the detail muck make a huge difference.

4. Know Yourself

Take time to assess exactly what you have to offer as a mentor—your skills, strengths, experiences, knowledge and networks. Go into the relationship knowing what you bring to the table and then partner with your mentee to see how that aligns with what they want to learn and share. Then you both can work together to make it a mutually engaging relationship.

5. Remember Your Mentee’s Situation

It’s difficult, but important to balance the huge amount of experience (that qualifies you as a mentor) and the situation the mentee is in. A mentor has to remember what it was like when they were in this early stage, because not everything they can do now is also suitable for a mentee. The main question is: Is this advice (e.g. what I would do) also applicable in this very different situation?

6. Establish Expectations

As a mentor, it is important to set very clear expectations of what a thriving mentoring relationship looks like to your mentee. Firstly, the mentee needs to have a purpose for the mentoring relationship to be impactful. Secondly, the onus of taking notes, setting action items, learning and applying are on the mentee. As a mentor, you are there to provide guidance and support to further their goals.

7. Let The Mentee Lead

Much like coaching, mentoring is about guiding and empowering, not directing. Making the mentee the star—giving encouragement, helping identify skills and resources they both have and need, exploring ideas to reach their goals—is more meaningful than being prescriptive. Know what the mentee seeks from the relationship and let them lead. Use your expertise only to inform your questions.

8. Stop Judging Yourself

“Get over yourself” is the best advice I was given to become a great mentor and leader. Self-critique is often the roadblock keeping you from being great, because self-judging leads you to question every decision. But your mentee is focused on their own development. You only need to do your best, teach from experience and know you will always be working on what you teach. You’re ready!

9. Practice Active Listening

One of the most important things one can do for a mentee is to listen. Let them talk. Don’t feel like you need to have all the answers. To be honest, no one knows better about what is best for them than themselves. Many times, it just takes talking through things. If you can provide that sounding board, you are a valuable resource. 

10. Shift Between Coaching And Mentoring

A successful mentor uses both coaching and mentoring skills. Mentoring involves drawing upon the mentor’s own skills, knowledge and experience to advise the mentee, whereas coaching incorporates open-ended questions in order to create awareness on behalf of the mentee. Toggling back and forth between pulling and pushing is the best way to provide a quality mentoring experience.

11. Build Rapport And Empower Them

Create a safe space and demonstrate a genuine interest in your mentee. Be supportive and honest, honor agreements and keep appointments. Always do what you say you’ll do, wherever possible. Share your experience, challenges and wisdom, but don’t intervene too quickly to solve their problems. Ask guiding questions rather than advising. Encourage them to find their own solutions. Praise and empower.

12. Ensure The Relationship Is Reciprocal

A trusting, collaborative relationship is foundational for mentoring partnerships. One vital element of the relationship is reciprocity. Each partner contributes to the relationship and learns from the other. Without the presence of learning, mentoring doesn’t exist. As a mentor, it’s key to engage and guide your partner appropriately to create and maintain a climate that supports learning.

13. Share The Good And The Bad

As a first-time mentor, it’s important to realize you are not expected to be a superhero with every answer and every accomplishment. It’s truly more important to be authentic and allow your mentee to learn from your mistakes, growing pains, good choices and best practices. Share the good with the bad, be OK with saying “I don’t know” and introduce your mentee to your network for further growth.

14. Get Excited

People like to feel good. Charge yourself up with great memories or music before the interaction. Then imagine you are “throwing” positivity at your mentee. Emotion rubs off, and they will remember you for it.

You might also enjoy