How to Successfully Start and End a Mentoring Relationship

(photo courtesy of Mattias Nyström/Flikr)

The hardest part of a mentoring relationship figuring out where to begin and how to break up. Having had multiple mentors over the course of several years, I’ve learned how to make it easy and, more importantly, extremely productive.

Starting a mentorship, making that first introduction, is not too different from applying for a job. Do your research. During my time at one company, I was interested in learning more about brand marketing, so I went through the org charts, found the chief marketing officer, and explored her background on LinkedIn.

Clearly the CMO of a Fortune 500 company is a busy woman. I took into account that she gets hundreds of emails a day and has a full schedule, so my first email needed to be simple and direct.

A well constructed, clear and thoughtful email will go a long way. The introductory email has to be very simple and straightforward: who you are (name and job); why you are emailing (interest in her background, experience, etc.) and what exactly you want from her (one hour a month for 4–6 months). My email was clear and simple — the CMO said yes right away.

After getting a “yes” the next step is easy, do what you said you were going to do. Set up a meeting series for one hour once a month for the agreed upon timeframe. The subject in the invite should be “Mentoring Series: Your Name.”

Again, do some research and be thoughtful about the topics you want to cover during your meetings. These topics will help you set the agendas and ultimately drive the discussions. So, include a list of 4–6 topics in the body of the invite. These details ensure that when the reminder comes up on your mentor’s calendar he will know immediately who he is meeting with, why and the topics that might be discussed.

Before each meeting prepare an agenda and send it to your mentor 6–12 hours before you meet, print a copy and bring it with you to the meeting. Come to every meeting prepared with questions and stay focused on the topic.

For example, before my first meeting with the CMO I spent time researching advertisements our company and our competitors were currently running and read trade publications to see if there was any recent media coverage about advertising in the company’s industry. This did two things for me, it helped me dive deeper into the topics I had laid out and generated questions for the meeting ahead of time.

Keep the meetings professional and don’t use it as a place to complain about your manager or coworkers. You can discuss topics such as how your mentor managed a challenging time and found success, but don’t make it into a bitch session. Be respectful of your mentor’s time, be on time, listen and always leave with a thank you.

Before your final meeting think about how else this person could help you. A reference for another mentor? More meetings? My meetings with the CMO went so well that she actually wanted to continue for another 4 months. Or maybe nothing at all…with some other mentors we covered the topics in less time and ended early, which was fine.

I learned that to have a successful mentoring relationship I had to own it. Mentors can fulfill many different needs, understand what you want from the relationship and stay focused on it.

If you’ve mentored before — what made your relationship successful? Please share! Enjoyed this post? Please click recommend and share!

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