On Being a Mentor—My Bad!

I met recently for the first time with a new mentee. She asked me a while back if I would serve as her mentor, and I said yes, but that I was going to be out of the office for a while. When I returned to the office, we scheduled our first meeting.

Guess what? I blew it. Well, it certainly felt like I did. But when our first meeting ended, she did say I was helpful (do you think she was just being nice?). I have to tell you that it felt like I was having to speak off the cuff. I know, I know. Speaking off the cuff can sometimes be a good thing, in a refreshing (disorganized) sort of way.

It felt like I blew it because I didn’t prepare for our first meeting. I could sit here and list all kinds of excuses—the main one being that I didn’t think about our upcoming meeting while I was enjoying a quick vacation at the ocean (play and relax, no work allowed), and so when I returned to work on a Monday, to a lot of e-mails to go through and tasks that needed to be done, I didn’t pay attention that our first mentor/mentee meeting was scheduled for the very next day. While that excuse sounds great to me, it certainly wasn’t fair to my new mentee.

I should have prepared by asking a few questions ahead of time. When we met, she didn’t know how to start the meeting. And I’m thinking, What? Why doesn’t she have an idea of how to start chatting with her mentor?

If I would have asked questions ahead of time, I would have learned that this was the first time she’s ever had a mentor. (Turns out she actually had a mentor one time, but she glossed over how that mentor, well, that mentor didn’t really do anything for her.)

Upfront questions

I shouldn’t have assumed that my new mentee would come to the table full of thoughts and comments and ideas on how she expected our mentor/mentee relationship to go. I should have asked, upfront, before our first meeting, at a minimum, things like:

  • How long have you been with the firm?
  • What were you doing before you joined the firm?
  • What are your short-term or long-term career goals?
  • Have you had a mentor before this?

Those questions could have helped me get our first meeting started much better than it did. But, I was a doofus. After all I’ve learned on how to be a mentor, you’d think I wouldn’t be such a doofus for this new mentor/mentee relationship.

Knowing now that she has never really had a mentor, she had no expectations of our relationship. How could she? She needed me to set the tone, to get things going.

So, I winged it (it felt like winging to me). I had to.

During our meeting, after I got smart and asked some of those upfront questions, I just came right out and told her that I was going to sort of brain-dump some strategies on her (and I apologized for not being better prepared). Here are some of the things I said:

  • You need to become visible to more people within the firm.
  • You can become visible simply by attending as many as the firm-sponsored events as you can. Such as brown-bags, even though the topic sounds boring or is not relevant to your current job. Managers, from mid-level on up, notice when admin staff attend those types of events. You don’t have to contribute at the brown-bags, but it will be cool if you are able to, even if you are only asking questions.
  • You should volunteer. For whatever you can. And when you volunteer, follow through on what you commit to doing. You could help gather articles for the in-house newsletter. Or better yet, write an article for the newsletter. You could help with the holiday party. Just volunteer, get involved, and don’t wait to be asked.
  • You should make sure that your supervisors and other managers know your desire to work on specific projects or tasks, or that you are willing to relocate. Or that you want to get involved at the corporate level in addition to the local office level.
  • You shouldn’t nickel-and-dime the company. Get training on your own dime, or at least offer to help pay for some of that training. You can always take your new-found knowledge and skills to another company, so be willing to invest in yourself, on your own time and expense.
  • You should join a professional organization. And participate in that organization. Go to meetings. Go to events. Serve on committees. Get buy-in from your manager, and make sure your manager knows you will be a participating member.
  • Take advantage of any in-house training that is available. Grow your skills. Become more than proficient at things. What’s going to set you apart (in a good, value-added way) from other staff?
  • Toot your own horn. No one else is going to do that for you, unless of course, you have a great manager or a great mentor. Really, it’s okay for admin staff to toot their own horns. How else will your manager (and other people that can help you grow your career) learn about your accomplishments?

I felt bad about not being prepared for that first meeting. I’m the mentor, for gosh sakes—I should have been able to take the lead right off the bat and get the conversation started.

So, my bad. I’ll do better next time.

Lesson learned: Be prepared when it comes to planned meetings with your mentee. No excuses!