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It’s likely you have heard how important it is to have a mentor in order to grow your career, even if you work in creative and innovative sectors. SAP Success Factors found that, during an analysis of 43 studies, people with mentors received higher compensation, more promotions, felt more satisfied and committed to their career, and are more likely to believe they will advance their career than those without a mentor.
If you have never worked with a mentor, you might be a bit intimidated by what to say to them. To help, I have shared some questions not to ask your mentor and the reasons why. Don’t ask your mentor these questions!
What do you do for work? Tell me about yourself.
If you have the name of your mentor prior to being paired with them or are acquainted already in some way, you absolutely must do your research on your mentor prior to meeting them the first time. As a general rule, you shouldn’t be asking any questions that have publicly available answers online. For example, where they went to school, who they work for, what their job title is. All of these are usually publicly available on LinkedIn.
Further, if you are lucky enough to have a mentor that has made their secrets and advice readily available about how they got to where they are, such as in a published book about their life or perhaps interviews on them, you need to read that before talking to them.
Doing your research on your mentor prior to meeting will mean that you already get all of their public knowledge beforehand and then you can ask targeted, detailed questions on that knowledge to go even further.
Can you recommend me for this specific job to a particular person in management?
Make sure that you are not approaching your mentor with the ask of a sponsor! The difference between a mentor and a sponsor is that mentors will give you guidance, coaching, and encouragement, while sponsors will take action and advocate for your career on your behalf.
It’s possible that your mentor may also be a sponsor of yours, but don’t assume it to be the case. Asking them to recommend you for a specific job to a specific person puts your mentor in a tough situation. If they don’t think you are the right fit for the job or are worried about their reputation, they might not want to take that step. They might be more likely to give guidance and input on your ideas.
It’s critical that you define whether you want your mentor-mentee relationship to focus on guidance and advice, or whether you are looking for a sponsor that can take you under their wing. Also, don’t be afraid to state specifically what you are seeking – such as a particular job. However, leave it up to them whether they will offer to advocate for you or recommend you or the job.
Can you tell me every step to get from point A to point B?
Sure, a mentor could tell you how they got from point A to B, or how someone in general could do it, but a mentor is not purposed with giving you a syllabus or road map. Mentors are there to give you guidance on decisions you are thinking about making. The key point here is that you are meant to drive the car, they are supposed to talk you through the journey. If you are looking for a step by step turn navigation, you could find that elsewhere.
Can we reschedule?
Now, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, as we are all human and true emergencies do come up that require us to reschedule meetings with a mentor, but by and large, you should hold your meeting times.
Whether paid or unpaid, mentors take valuable time out of their schedule and away from family or personal time to solely focus on you and your career. That should be treated with the utmost respect. Don’t reschedule on them, except for true emergencies.
What questions should I ask my mentor?
Now that you know what questions not to ask your mentor, which ones should you be asking? Here are a few ideas:
- What are the most important keys to being successful in [your career industry]?
- What mistakes have you made in your career and how did you learn from them?
- If I plan to follow [your career path], do you think additional schooling would be beneficial?
- I have this specific situation with one of my clients and I’m having trouble. Can you offer your advice on this topic?
Notice that questions you ask your mentor should be specific and ask for their targeted response. The best mentees come prepared to meetings with goals they want to achieve (i.e. cover 3 topics and get their mentors feedback).
The best mentees work with their mentor to hone in on which direction they want to go and get clear on how they plan to do so. Making your career goals clear to your mentor can give your mentor the option to become a sponsor or to introduce you to a contact or other sponsor that can help you.
If you are struggling with how to find the right mentor for you or how to get career advice, Mentorly can help! Their platform helps people all over the world in the creative and innovative sectors search for, book, and hold 30 minute to hour long sessions via video call directly on the platform for a nominal fee. If paying a mentor is not in your budget right now, consider applying for their InKind fund, which grants mentor sessions to lucky candidates on a rolling basis.
What questions do you have about finding the right mentor?
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