Mentoring isn’t a buzzword - it really works! This ultimate guide to mentoring will provide you with all the basic knowledge about this practice which is sought after both by companies and individuals. After all, there is a reason why 71% of Fortune500 companies have mentorship programs, and 9 out of 10 professionals who have a career mentor say they are happy in their jobs. Find out all about how mentoring works, who a mentor is, finding the right mentor, and more!
What is mentoring?
To start out, let’s define mentoring. So what does mentoring mean?
„Mentoring is the practice of helping and advising a less experienced person over a period of time, especially as part of a formal programme in a company, university, etc.“
- Oxford Dictionary
Now that we know the meaning of the term mentoring, let’s look at how mentoring works in companies. In short - it’s either internal or external. In the case of internal mentoring, the mentor is someone from within the company. With external mentoring, on the other hand, the mentor is someone who comes from outside the company.
To understand what mentoring is before you apply to get a mentor, it’s necessary to point out that it’s a two-way street – each side of the relationship has its own specific role. The role of the mentor is to share their experience, advise and guide, which helps the second party – the mentee – to learn and grow. However, the mentee is much more than just a receiver. The initiative to learn and advance should come from their side. The mentee must have a clear idea of what they want to achieve and be proactive when working with their mentor to move towards these goals.
The difference between mentoring and coaching
As they seem similar at first glance, many get confused about what is the difference between mentoring and coaching. To explain briefly, a coach will help you explore your values, goals, and personal development challenges by asking you questions. By asking these questions, a coach should point you in the right direction through you finding your own answers to them.
A mentor, on the other hand, is here to share their experience with you, and it’s up to you to ask the questions and be inquisitive. They’re here to support and guide you, but not to tell you what to do. Based on what they share with you, you should be able to use your mentors' knowledge and experience and apply it to your own career. Keep reading to find out more about a mentor’s role!
What is a mentor?
The role of a mentor is to inspire their mentee through sharing their experience and helping to guide them toward their goal. A mentor should be an experienced professional who is able and prepared to share the learnings from their years of experience. However, mentees should be proactive with their mentorship and shouldn’t rely on their mentor to tell them what to do.
When someone decides to become a mentor, it means fully stepping into the role and taking on these key responsibilities:
- Providing the mentee with insight that will help move them toward their goals
- Sharing real-life examples and suggesting resources
- Providing feedback to the mentee
- Showing up and being engaged throughout the process
As mentioned above, being a mentor is all about sharing experience and knowledge gathered over the course of one’s career. A common misconception is that you need decades of experience to mentor someone. However, if you’re wondering if you would make a good mentor, it’s important to point out that even 5 years of relevant working experience can be enough to enrich someone’s career with your insights. What matters to the mentee is that you were once in their shoes, and are able to relate to their situation while utilizing the knowledge you have as your current, more experienced self.
Types of mentoring
Based on our day-to-day business and experience, we at Femme Palette distinguish 3 types of mentoring.
The first type is career development mentoring. In this case mentoring is used by a company as one of the best practices for talent development. Career development mentoring allows each mentee to focus on their individual needs and challenges, and is therefore a highly personalized experience. A mentee can choose to focus on their hard skills (such as using a specific tool), soft skills (such as communication and presentation), or both - it depend on the individual.
Another of the types of mentoring is leadership mentoring. Being a great leader who inspires and motivates others requires a whole new set of skills which can be hard to acquire as an individual contributor. That’s why both first-time and seasoned leaders choose to work with mentors to improve in areas such as team management, defining their leadership style, being more inclusive, or even increasing self-confidence.
In recent years, conversations have been taking place on how mentoring boosts DEI. That’s why, last but not least, one of the types of mentoring worth mentioning is also mentoring focused on marginalized or underrepresented groups such as women, POCs, LGBTQ+ employees or employees with disabilities. A mentoring program connects members of these groups with mentors who understand the unique challenges and biases preventing them from climbing the career ladder. A mentor will provide the mentee with tools to overcome challenges and fight biases to come out on top of them. Mentoring for underrepresented groups can also be focused on a specific area or skill, such as mentoring for women in UX design, marketing or product management.
Why is mentoring important?
As mentioned before, mentoring is a two-way street. Both the mentee and mentor can benefit from the process if done right. So what are the benefits of mentorship for both sides?
Why mentoring is important for mentees
It builds their knowledge and skills. Mentoring is a great opportunity to learn from someone who was once in your situation. Having some who has been through a similar career evolution share their knowledge and experience first-hand is the reason why in some mentees’ experience, they were able to learn faster with a mentor than through other channels such as online courses.
It gives them support in challenging moments. Having a cheerleader who wants to see you succeed is incredibly reassuring and motivating at the same time. Mentoring can help you with career change, making difficult decisions, or reassure you before tricky conversations like asking for a pay raise or giving negative feedback.
It helps them grow professionally. By combining the two benefits of mentoring mentioned above, people who work with mentors are able to move up the career ladder very fast. Having the guidance of and experienced professional makes learning and decision making so much faster, therefore removing many obstacles which would have otherwise slowed down the mentee’s career progression.
To give a better idea of how having a mentor can benefit you, this is what some of our Femme Palette mentees shared:
“Having a mentor was like having a career therapist. Over the six months of mentorship I built a solid foundation of skills and confidence that I will use to achieve my goals.”
- Molly Young, Customer Service and Operations Assistant at Karen Mabon Ltd.
“Over the 12 mentoring sessions, I have learnt and developed in many aspects of my career and personal life. Through the program, my mentor has helped me switch careers successfully, grow confidently and improve on my overall personal development with increased focus and ambition. It’s a wonderful experience to learn from the experience of my mentor and have the support and guidance, especially when switching careers and starting from the beginning again. I’ve learnt a very important lesson: the power of learning from and reaching out to others who’ve walked the path before you.”
- Ayan Ali, Junior Frontend Developer at Elsewhen
“I have realized that mentoring can replace a lot of hours spent finding solutions in various lectures or books. Because you directly solve your own problems with an expert and you implement the solution straight away.”
- Kristyna Minarova, Strategy and R&D Specialist at Raiffeisenbank a.s.
Why mentoring is important for mentors
It builds their skills, too! By guiding someone with less experience (or, in the case of reverse mentoring, someone with more experience), the mentor can improve in areas such as being a better listener, being more organized, or being clear and concise when sharing information. These are all skills that can benefit the mentor in their own career, especially in leadership roles.
It provides a fresh point of view. Sometimes when an individual has worked in the same industry or environment for a long time, they can get stuck in a rut. Mentors mention that talking to mentees can be like a breath of fresh air providing new ideas, perspectives, and inspiration for their own careers.
It makes them feel valued. One of the biggest benefits of mentorship for mentors is that giving is just simply a great feeling! Not only do mentors appreciate being able to help someone, it also helps them take a step back to acknowledge their own success and how far they have come, thus increasing self-confidence and sense of self-worth.
Here’s a bit more on the benefits of mentoring according to our Femme Palette mentors:
“I'm so surprised to see what I can bring to my mentee. When she asks questions on how to achieve some of her goals, it brings back memories of things I've done well or not, and what options I could have considered then. It's great to see her thrive and push herself to see things differently, just because she gets a new perspective in addition to her own experience.”
- Aicha Diarra, Global Support Lead at Codat
“For me, mentoring means developing together. I enjoy giving back my experience to others while also learning from other perspectives and insights. Knowing that there is someone with whom you can exchange ideas and opinions is a real asset that I wouldn't want to miss.”
- Samuel Pais, Customer Marketing Manager at Spryker
“My mentee is going through a similar journey as I do and I am glad that my own learning and failures could be useful for someone else and just sharing experience can help her to progress faster in her career. On the other hand, through the experience of my mentee, I can often see daily challenges from different perspectives and gain new ideas. Mentoring is a mutual process, which makes us both grow.”
- Maria Loparcakova, Agile Project Manager at Container Solutions
Finding a mentor
A simple way of gaining access to mentors are mentoring programs for companies. Find out if your employer is currently offering a mentoring program, or if they’re planning to do so. The benefit of this is, of course, that everything is taken care of, and the only thing you need to do is focus on your mentoring sessions.
Unless your company decides to start a workplace mentoring program, finding a mentor on your own terms may seem overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be! Yes, there are many mentoring programs around offered by various platforms and organizations. The key, however, is knowing what you want from mentoring. For example, if your company has its specific tools and processes which you’d like to understand deeper, you might want to ask a more experienced colleague within the company if they'd be willing to mentor you informally. However, a whole different situation is if, for example, you feel that you need to gain a new perspective, work on your soft skills, or change your careers. You might also feel like you’re not getting equal growth opportunities as a member of a marginalized group. When looking at various mentoring platforms, pay attention to what areas they can help you in and who their mentors are. Then compare with your goals and expectations to make sure you get a good match.
Many employers are designing and running mentoring programs in the workplace as it’s a great way to use your Learning & Development budget. If your employer isn’t directly offering a mentoring program, talk to your HR or L&D department about the possibility of the company covering an external mentoring program for you. Explain to them the benefits outlined earlier in this article to convince them how it could contribute to your career development.
How to prepare for a mentoring session
To get the most out of mentoring, it’s key to arrive prepared for each session with your mentor. Here are a few tips for preparing for a mentoring session which you should definitely keep in mind.
- Keep your goals in mind. Each mentoring journey starts with the mentee defining the goals they would like to achieve. Therefore, arrive to your first mentoring session with these goals prepared and ready to present, and keep them in mind throughout all your mentoring sessions. Come up with a plan for how you’re going to achieve your goals, and base the agenda of your sessions on that plan. Which brings us to our next point…
- Have an agenda. Let your mentor know before each session what you would like to focus on. This should be in line with your goals. This gives the mentor a chance to prepare and share all the knowledge and experience they could possibly have.
- Prepare to be vulnerable. Pretending that everything is always perfect and on
the right track might make you feel better in the moment, but will do nothing
for you in the long run. If being open and vulnerable is something that you find hard to do, make sure to factor this into your preparation and plan what you’d like to share with your mentor.
- Have questions prepared to ask. Show interest and make the most of your sessions by asking your mentor questions - that’s what they’re here for! If you’re feeling a bit stuck, try some of the suggestions below.
Questions to ask a mentor
Here are some examples of questions to ask a mentor during a session. Being inquisitive is the basis of having a productive conversation with a mentor, so if you’re feeling a bit shy or stuck for ideas, give these suggestions a try!
To break the ice, have your mentor tell a story from their career. Some questions to consider:
• How did you learn to embrace risk-taking?
• Tell me about a recent business setback. How did you recover?
• Think back to five years ago. Did you envision your career as it is today?
• Was there ever a role you applied for and landed, but weren’t 100% qualified to do? How did you proceed?
• What do you wish you had known before taking your first management role?
• Which leadership skills were the most difficult to develop?
• Can you tell me about a time when you had a di!cult boss? How did you handle the situation?
When the conversation is already flowing, bring a specific situation to your mentor - one that you’d like help navigating. For example:
• I tried to delegate a task and it did not go well. Can we work through what to do di"erently next time?
• How can I let my boss know that I don’t need to be micromanaged?
• How can I stay connected to key influencers who do not work in the same o!ce or geographical area?
• My performance review is coming up. What type of preparation would you most appreciate seeing from your employees?
• I have two very di"erent career path options available to me. Can you weigh in to help me make a final decision?
One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is the gift of self-awareness, meaning the ability to see yourself as others view you. Your mentor can help you with that by “holding up the mirror” and providing detailed feedback on how your actions and communication are impacting the way others see you. Ask questions such as:
• How am I viewed? In other words, how would you describe my personal brand?
• Where do you see my strengths?
• What do you see as some of my blind spots and how can I improve?
• Could you o"er feedback on ways to improve my executive presence?
• How can I communicate my ideas more clearly?
Is there a skill you’re currently working to enhance, such as project management, long-term strategic planning, delegating, or public speaking? Use questions like these to ask your mentor for advice and resources to help you polish that skill:
• How can I become a more assertive negotiator?
• Can we role-play asking for a raise and a promotion?
• How can I become better at managing people who do not report to me?
• Can you recommend a book or resource for dealing with di!cult conversations?
• What practices can you recommend for dealing with nervousness when speaking to groups?
• What’s a good methodology or tool for project management and tracking team commitments?
• Do you have a template that you use for long-range visioning and strategic planning?
• What new skills do I need to move ahead?
Now you are hopefully feeling more confident in your knowledge of mentoring, and know what to expect from it. This should help you take the right steps to finding a mentorship program which works best for you and your individual career needs. Or, if you’re not sure what kind of mentoring program to choose, take our Femme Palette Program Quiz to find what best suits your needs!