The mentor and mentee relationship is a two-way street, but the mentee should be the one driving the interaction.

Mentor and Mentee: 5 Ways to Get the Most Out of the Relationship

Leadership Professional Growth

The mentor and mentee relationship is a two-way street, but the mentee should be driving the interaction. Here are five things mentees should keep in mind.

We’ve covered why finding a career mentor can be important, and how to be a great mentor. But from the mentee perspective, how can you be sure you’re getting the most out of the relationship?

The mentor and mentee connection is a two-way street — the full participation of each is necessary for the relationship to work. Here are five things mentees should keep in mind in order to make the most of what their mentor has to teach them.

Show Up

Mentors are making a personal gift of their time and energy, as well as giving their mentees access to their network of people and resources. Given that investment, there’s nothing more frustrating for a mentor than if their mentee doesn’t show up committed to the process and doing the work to push their career forward. Make sure the effort you’re giving to the process aligns with the effort they are making. If you don’t show up, you shouldn’t expect your mentor to give you 100 percent.

Find Your Own Path… and Communicate It!

Your mentor will likely align with your career ambitions. However, there’s no rule saying you have to be their shadow or clone. They may have more experience, but you should be in charge of your personal development and have a clear picture of the path you want to take, Insala advises. More importantly, you should communicate that path honestly and consistently. As talented as your mentor might be, there’s very little likelihood that they can read your mind. The only way they can provide you with the best advice to get you where you want to go is if they know what that direction is!

Come With Questions

Your mentor has already done their own heavy lifting — you shouldn’t expect them to do yours as well. Think of your mentor as a sounding board to offer you the perspective of their experience, but you shouldn’t expect them to be the be-all and end-all. When you meet with them, Insala suggests being prepared with specific questions, outlining options so that you can get their take on the pros and cons of each. For example:

  • You shouldn’t say: “What career path should I take?”
  • You should say: “I’m thinking about these two jobs. Here are the pros and cons I see of each. What do you think? What other factors should I be considering?”

The distinction is clear. In the first instance, you’re expecting your mentor to lead the discussion. In the latter, you’re being proactive in your approach and actively seeking their feedback.

Be Open To New Ideas

As important as it is to have a solid grasp of what you’re looking for, it’s also important to consider the full scope of new ideas and perspectives that your mentor presents. Sometimes looking beyond your comfort zone is an incredibly uncomfortable experience. Make sure you’re not rejecting new ideas immediately. If you feel yourself pushing back, you should ask questions instead. Let the idea sink in. Give it time. You may come around to something that you never would have expected that is absolutely a perfect fit.

Consider Multiple Mentors

There’s no rule saying you can’t have more than one mentor, says Fast Company! Your career path may be complex and could call for more than one perspective. As a bonus, it takes the pressure off of one person to provide all the guidance. You may even be able to tap into your mentor to suggest who you could connect with to supplement their help.

The mentor and mentee relationship is a delicate balance, and each of you should show up and contribute in different ways. But the mentee should be the protagonist; you should be in the driver’s seat, coming to your mentor (or mentors) prepared for an in-depth discussion each and every time. That approach can set them up to help you achieve your goals.

Karlyn Borysenko
Karlyn Borysenko

My goal is to make professional life better for individuals, and drive productivity and results for organizations. I fix the "people problems" and I help individuals build better working relationships across their organizations, navigate office politics, create a great organizational culture, build and lead more productive teams, and be great managers. I'm one of the few workplace bullying experts in the country and I can help individuals who have been targeted, or organizations who think they might have a bullying problem on their hands. And if you work in sales or fundraising, I can teach you how to "read" your prospects to increase your close rate and generate more revenue. I'm an MBA, a PhD in Industrial/Organizational Psychology (ABD), and a certified DiSC Trainer. I believe passionately that an organization's most valuable resource is its people, and that leaders have a responsibility to put structures, processes, and systems in place that will support employee success, development, job satisfaction, and organizational culture.