Getting Started with Mentorship. What Is It All About?

Time and time again, you hear about the benefits of mentorship. But how do you start? Who do you look for? Should you be a mentor? Let’s get it straight once and for all.

Allen Helton
Aug 16 · 9 min read

I have always been an independent person. When I was in college, I wanted to do everything myself. I knew how to research my problems. To me, asking for help meant I wasn’t ready to be on my own.

So I grew into the notion that I had to do it all. This carried on into my first job as a software developer. I was part of a team for the first time, but I was an individual player. Needless to say, I struggled a bit my first couple of years. I was going nowhere fast.

It wasn’t until I found my first mentor that things started turning around. He taught me about self-awareness, which showed me that it is not all about me. It’s about being part of a team. Helping each other. Teaching each other. Depending on each other. While this lesson applied to my small software development team, the morals it teaches apply to daily life.

Mentoring is what made me who I am today. To say I am a different person than when I was fresh out of college would be an understatement. Let’s explore exactly what it takes to be a mentor, mentee, or both.

What…

Is a mentor?

A mentor is a person that will help you grow. They are where you want to you. They have or had similar goals as you. They guide you along the path they took to get where they are. A mentor wants to see you be the best you. Always encouraging, mature, and knows what you need to do to fulfill your dreams.

A mentor needs to be someone you trust, or can easily develop trust in. They need to know that you are up for a challenge and won’t back down at the first sign of conflict. Most importantly, a mentor is a friend.

Is a mentee?

A mentee is someone you have taken under your wing. You want to help them figure out life. They have confided in you their hopes and dreams, and you do your best to get them there the fastest. They are someone who you always make time for, no matter what. They are your family.

You are friends with a mentee, not a dictator. If they don’t take your advice, that’s ok. You learn some of the best lessons through failure. You offer your expert advice, and they will come to realize that you’ve been around the block a couple times. You know what you’re saying. A mentee is a friend and student.

Why…

Be a mentor?

Simply put, a mentor is an expert in something. Everybody has expert level knowledge in at least one thing. There are people out there that are looking for that kind of knowledge in that one thing. Give back. If you struggled to get where you are, help someone out so they don’t have to fight as hard. Share your experiences with others.

Helping somebody reach their dreams is unbelievably rewarding.

I was a competitive runner in college. When I wasn’t in class or out running, I worked at a local running shop as a coach. Coaching was fun, but my focus was on my own running. I helped others as a means to pay my rent and other bills.

After graduation, I got a full-time job, but I continued to coach on my own. I cut back my competitive running and poured my efforts into helping people hit their goals. As I matured, I realized that I got more enjoyment out of my trainees succeeding than I did from my own successes.

Seeing their faces when they ran their personal record was indescribable. It was more impactful to me anything else I had done as a competitive runner. Giving back was the highlight of my running career.

Get a mentor?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve set some lofty goals for yourself. It won’t be easy to get where you want to go alone. You need the guidance from someone who has been there, done that.

They’ve done the research, gone through the tough times, and figured it out on their own so you don’t have to. They want to help you get where they are.

Let’s be honest, you will get frustrated at times. Sometimes you need to vent. A mentor will listen to your issues and if you want, offer their advice. They know what you’re going through, they’ve gone through it themselves. A mentor knows how to get to the next step. They will position you best for success.

Who…

Makes a good mentor?

A mentor is not your mom or dad. They are not your best friend. True, these people have your best interests in mind and would do anything for you, but they are not a mentor. A mentor is someone you build a special type of relationship with.

A good mentor will use their experience to mold you. They develop a rapport with you over time by giving you the guidance you need in an area of your interest. Mentors are mature, level headed people. They don’t fly off the deep end if you don’t listen. They are patient. They are trustworthy. They listen.

You connect with a mentor at a crossroads between a personal and professional level. A mentor is not your boss. A mentor is not your mom. A mentor is someone who can tell you how to get a promotion, but also tell you how to live life to the fullest. They aren’t going to tell you what you want to hear, they will tell you what you need to hear.

Makes a good mentee?

You cannot pick any junior level employee at your company and start mentoring them. A mentee is ready to find help. They have reached a point of maturity where they realize they can’t do it on their own.

When considering someone to be a mentee, consider a couple of things. Are they like-minded? Are they ambitious? Are they seeking help in an area where you have domain knowledge?

A mentee is not going to give up when things are tough. They must have a certain amount of ambition. They want to get better. A mentee is trainable. Nothing is more frustrating than someone who says they want help but doesn’t listen to a word you say. That is not someone who actually wants help.

An exceptional mentee will come to you. They might even say “will you be my mentor?” When this happens, take into consideration the things mentioned earlier. Does this person have the drive to get where they want to go? Are they coachable? Do I connect with this person?

Where…

Do you find a mentor?

A great place to start looking for a mentor is at your company. Chances are, since you’re reading this article, that you’re interested in mentorship. See if your company has a mentorship program. Many companies do. If not, do a quick self-assessment.

What do you want to do? Do you have career goals? How do you figure out what your career goals are? Who do you see walking around on the floor that can help you answer these questions? Who do you look up to? Who has a unique perspective?

Think about people that have been in your shoes. Maybe you’re an entry level data entry clerk. Maybe you’re a senior level software engineer. What successful person in your company has been an entry level data entry clerk or a senior level software engineer?

Talk to your boss. Don’t use your boss as your mentor but ask them for more information about the type of person you’re looking for. They should be able to help you.

Do your best to find someone you already know, at least indirectly. You might catch a stranger off-guard if you ask them to be your mentor out of the blue.

Do you find a mentee?

Again, start at your company. Instead of looking up the career ladder, look the other way. Who is wearing the shoes you used to wear? Do they match the criteria of a good mentee?

Because of the nature of a mentor/mentee relationship, don’t try to mentor your direct reports. In a mentorship you need to connect at a more personal level than a professional boss/employee relationship allows. Maybe the mentee holds the same position you did but is in a different department.

Remember, the best mentees will find you. But if you are itching to help someone right now, go talk to your peers. They will know someone who needs your specific brand of guidance.

If you can’t find someone at your company, go online. There are many opportunities to mentor people locally and plenty of websites to help you connect.

When…

Should you seek a mentor?

If you don’t have a mentor right now, start looking for one. You are not growing to your full potential if you do not have a mentor. One of the most important personal goals you can set for yourself is to always have a mentor.

No matter what walk of life you’re from, or what job you hold, you can always get ahead with a mentor.

They say the best time to start something was 10 years ago. The second-best time is today.

If you can’t find a mentor right away, that’s ok. Keep trying. You will find someone or they will find you. Make your intentions clear. The worst thing you can do for yourself is be silent and not accept help. Start asking around your company about people who have once filled your shoes.

Should you seek a mentee?

To be blunt, not everyone is ready to be a mentor. How can you tell when you’re ready? Do you feel like you’re mature enough to be patient with a young whippersnapper? Do you have domain expertise in something? Do you know when a lesson can be learned by letting your mentee fail?

Do you notice someone struggling day to day? Do they just not get it? Are you able to help them get past their issues? Do they match the criteria we talked about earlier?

If you already have a mentee, don’t actively seek out another one. If someone approaches you, consider if you can give them both the appropriate amount of attention. If you can, great! Take on another mentee and change the life of another individual.

If you can’t, that is totally acceptable. You want to focus on giving your current mentee the right advice and attention.

So What Now?

Now is the right time to engage in a new relationship. Whether it is looking for a mentor, a mentee, or both, there is no time like the present.

Mentoring is a two-way street. You will learn as much from your mentee as they will learn from you. You will grow yourself in maturity, knowledge, and personal relationship building. Plus, you will make a lifelong friend. People never forget their mentors.

Having a mentee doesn’t mean you can’t have a mentor yourself. It doesn’t matter where you’re at in life. You have your own set of goals. Somebody can help you reach them. Mentors are always willing to help you.

Remember, the driving force behind mentorship is making the world a better place. Don’t be a mentor because it makes you look good. Don’t get a mentor to try to skip levels at work. Do it to help each other. Enrich your life by giving back.

Good luck.

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Allen Helton

Written by

I am a lead software engineer at Tyler Technologies with a focus on cloud-native design and architecture.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +514K people. Follow to join our community.

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