Having a mentor can give your career a serious boost. If they work at your company, they can act as an internal advocate, helping you secure the right projects and attention. Even if they’re not employed alongside you, they can educate you in which opportunities to pursue and pitfalls to avoid.
What do technologists actually want out of a mentor? Blind, which anonymously surveys technologists about a range of issues, recently presented that question to its audience. Overall, some 27 percent of respondents said that they wanted a mentor for career growth, such as interview advice. Another 17 percent wanted leadership development.
Other popular answers included help with interpersonal skills (16 percent), a stronger and more confident mindset (9 percent), productivity and time management (7 percent), professional fulfillment (7 percent), and handling issues around workload and work-life balance (6 percent). Here’s a company-by-company breakdown; as you can see in the chart, the needs remained pretty consistent across firms:
With the COVID-19 pandemic still forcing most technologists to work from home, starting and fostering the mentoring relationship can be a little bit difficult for both mentors and mentees. Fortunately, scheduling and video-conferencing tools can still help people build connections; the most important part, is to establish trust, as well as a rhythm of regular contact.
For those beginning their mentoring search, there are a number of places to find a suitable mentor, including:
- College/university alumni networks.
- Among your more experienced colleagues.
- Online professional communities (preferably around your interests and profession).
- Friends/family connections.
The most compatible mentors include those whose careers feature elements you’d like to element, such as particular skills or stints at certain companies. Many mentees judge the potential worthiness of the relationship by asking a potential mentor for advice or feedback; if that information turns out to be useful, it’s a solid start.
Above all, though, it’s important that mentees take things beyond the purely transactional. Your potential mentor is a human being, and their time is valuable; go out of your way to establish a true bond, and pay attention to their concerns and interests. Only lean on them for advice and help once you’ve done this “pre-work” and settled into a genuine relationship.
For mentors, meanwhile, it’s important to keep your advice targeted and relevant to your mentee’s concerns. It’s also key to learn from your mentees, who might have skills or insight that you can use; listen to what they’re telling you.
“If you’re a young person interested in any area in the tech space, mentors are especially helpful in using our collective experiences—and individual experiences—in helping them navigate through the excess of information the digital age has brought,” Kristala Prather, Arthur D. Little Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT, once told Dice. “There’s so much information today that we’re almost in information paralysis mode unless you have someone else to help guide you.”
As Blind’s data suggests, the key is to focus on what you want out of the mentor/mentee relationship—once you do that, you can craft interactions beneficial to both parties.