Meeting With a Mentor: A Beginner's Guide
The benefits of having a mentor are well-documented through academia, business, and first-hand accounts of the mentor-mentee relationship. Mentors can provide the extra encouragement, leadership coaching, guidance, and feedback that can propel a mentee to greatness. Conversely, mentees offer the mentor an opportunity to hone their leadership skills in several ways, ranging from critical thinking to problem-solving.
If you’re an aspiring business leader that’s looking for that little kick to push you down the right career path, a mentor just makes sense. But before you organize your first meeting, you need to have a plan as a mentee to get the most out of your mentoring relationship. With a bit of prep work and organization, your first and subsequent meetings with your mentor will be the first of many steps toward success in your professional development.
What To Expect at Your First Meeting With a Mentor
A good mentor isn’t a miracle worker. You’re not going to get some tidbit of advice and turn it into a lifetime of success. It’s more about setting the tone for success early, learning more about each other, and finding common ground.
Moreover, your first mentor meeting is a bit different than your next mentor meeting or any subsequent meeting for that matter. Instead of preparing specifically for a question & answer session or hopping straight into a session.
Four Things To Center Your First Meeting Around
Instead, your first meeting with a mentor should be centered around the following:
- Building a rapport: This doesn’t necessarily mean small talk; it’s more about discovering a little bit about each other’s history and the potential for overlapping goals or common interests.
- Setting expectations for one another: A mentor wants a mentee to attain their professional goals through coaching, constructive feedback, and the free discussion of ideas. However, a successful mentoring relationship is a two-way street. At the first meeting, set expectations to lay the groundwork for future productive meetings and a symbiotic relationship.
- Creating trust: Trust takes time, but like expectations, you can put a few ideas out there to plant the seeds of trust. Both sides should practice active listening and maintain open, vulnerable conversations from the first meeting onward. Over time, trust will grow.
- Setting an agenda: Every good meeting has a superb agenda, so this is the one thing you should create before meeting with a mentor. Even in a first meeting, setting an agenda can help your mentor craft an idea of what you want to achieve and what you’re struggling with.
Aside from setting an agenda, everything else should come somewhat organically, unless it’s the first foray for your both into a one-on-one mentorship program. Relax, be open, and your mentor will likely do the same.
What To Include on Your Mentoring Meeting Agenda
According to Forbes, around 70% to 75% of meetings are a total waste of time and resources. Add in the fact that a University of North Carolina study points to 71% of meetings as inefficient and totally unproductive, and your mentorship meeting is bound to fail—at least without an agenda created beforehand.
The good news is that your mentor is bound to put together a bit of agenda on your own. From your perspective, that’s a great bonus if your mentor is as invested in the relationship as you are.
That said, you still need to include a meeting agenda on your own. Unfortunately, most mentoring templates are strictly for the mentor and not the mentee, which requires you to use a bit of your own creativity. You can still use the mentor template to prepare you for your upcoming meeting, but make sure to include these aspects in your personal meeting agenda, assuming you’re going to meet for an hour:
- Provide a personal and professional background introduction. (15 minutes)
- Discuss and review career, personal, and professional goals. Just make sure that this also includes your fears and uncertainties in your future or current role. (15 minutes)
- Develop the first steps, action items, and strategies that can push you toward your goal. (15 minutes)
- Put together a schedule for your next meetings, including the time and where you want to meet (10 minutes)
- Wrap it up! Thank your mentor for their time and give them a basic idea of what you plan to achieve between now and your next meeting. (5 minutes)
Check-In With Your Agenda Beforehand
Once you have a basic agenda drafted, make sure to send it to your mentor at least 24 hours before the meeting. This will give them time to review it, gather their thoughts, and think about important discussion points.
Keep in mind that this is only a rough draft. You can tweak this however you see fit for a more productive meeting in the future. Meeting agendas will change over time, and your mentor and you may decide to scrap an agenda altogether once you become comfortable with each other.
But for now, go with an agenda that maximizes efficiency and brevity while setting a tone and precedent of professionalism at the beginning of your mentoring program.
Possible Agendas for Future Meetings
As mentioned, your agenda will almost certainly change with time, and your second meeting may not emulate your first meeting at all depending on how much you progressed between meetings and how much time has elapsed. So just as a follow-up, here’s a potential agenda for future meetings:
- Have a bit of an icebreaker or small talk to ease into the meeting. (5 minutes)
- Update the mentor about how you’ve progressed since your last meeting and how you’ve applied their knowledge. (15 minutes)
- Answer follow-up questions that your mentor may have. (15 minutes)
- Ask questions of your own that pertain to the struggles and challenges you’ve faced since your last meeting. (15 minutes)
- Prepare for the next meeting. Typically, you can let the mentor lead this part of the meeting, but you can also inject some of your ideas. (10 minutes)
Prepare for Your First Mentor Meeting With a Handy Checklist
Beyond your meeting agenda, preparation is tantamount to success. So if you’re at a loss for what you need to do for your first mentoring session, this checklist should remove any roadblocks and create an ideal atmosphere for learning and success:
- A frank and open discussion about what you wish to achieve
- Basic time frames for when you want to hold future meetings and when you want to achieve certain goals or milestones
- Research on your mentor—make sure that you go into the first meeting with an idea of their accomplishments, achievements, and professional background
- A list of questions that might include a discussion of the mentor’s challenges and how they overcame them, situational advice, or lessons and anecdotes that shaped who they are as a leader, boss, or person
- Think about what responsibilities you’ll have, as well as what you expect from your mentor
- Have an open mind when you arrive
Tips To Get the Most Out of Your Mentorship
Now that you’ve put together your meeting agenda and preparation checklist, you’re ready to soak in all of the information that your mentor has to offer. But like any great pursuit in life, the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.
An hour a week or month isn’t going to lead to greatness. Furthermore, you shouldn’t expect your mentor to shoulder the entire load of your professional advancement or even have the responsibility of your improvement. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, but one that requires work on your part.
Applying the ideas of your mentor is a must, but you may also want to add a few of these ideas to maximize your mentorship and realize your full potential:
- Create your own OKRs or objectives and key results. Similar to other goal-setting acronyms like SMART or PACT, OKRs are a measurable methodology to help you realize your full potential through goal achievement. By creating a set of OKRs, you have a way to track your progress beyond what the mentor gives you.
- Be a teachable subject. The younger you are, the more malleable you are in terms of trying new things, especially in the workplace. But the older you get, the more you like to stick to a routine. Regardless of your age, make sure that you’re teachable. Listen, think, and act. Otherwise, you’re just wasting everyone’s time.
- Follow through. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Don’t keep spinning your tires during every meeting you have with your mentor because you didn’t apply their lessons.
How To Prepare for Subsequent Meetings With a Mentor
After a few meetings, the mentor-mentee relationship grows, and hopefully, prospers. This doesn’t mean that your preparation becomes lackluster; it’s more about the evolution of your relationship.
While a mentee’s goals may have been the most important facet of first-time meetings, subsequent meetings can become more focused on feedback, more advanced follow-up questions, and—with any luck—milestones.
As long as the meetings remain productive and the mentee sees a progression in career development through the goals and words of the mentor, the mentor-mentee relationship can flourish continuously.
But it all starts with the first meeting. Put in the effort to prepare, and you just might find your career taking flight.