You extend a firm handshake and get ready to sit down at the table across from your mentor for the first time.
Woah, wait. Let’s back up to the legwork that should have happened prior to this meeting. First step, you found the mentor (see this post for practical ideas on how to find a mentor). Neither you nor the mentor have a lot of time — a frequent obstacle often cited in mentoring studies. Here are some tips on what to prepare before you sit face to face to make the most out of your meeting. Download a worksheet here to organize your notes as you go through the pointers below.
Get to know yourself
What do you want in your career? What don’t you want? If you don’t have any answers to these questions, then do some brainstorming first with family, friends, and colleagues to map out a rough idea of what you have accomplished, what you are passionate about and where you want to go. What strengths and interests do you have that you want to utilize or explore more? What obstacles and frustrations do you encounter? How satisfied are you with your career direction, education, professional development, and personal life? The mentor can’t hand over career answers to you by looking at a crystal ball, but they will be able to support you if they know your preferences and general goals.
Get to know your mentor
It’s not hard to search for information on someone these days. You can search for them on social media platforms — including Twitter and LinkedIn, browse their institution’s website for an official profile, or look for their publications on Pubmed.
Knowing the mentor’s background can help you formulate specific questions about their experiences and find out what resources or networks might be available to you through the mentor. Furthermore, having shared values is a key component of a successful mentorship, so dig a little to find common ground with your mentor and weave it into the conversation to strengthen your relationship.
Be humble and open minded
Be willing to consider constructive feedback and unfamiliar options. Take notes on why the mentor thinks another destination might be better for you, a different geographic area or institution, a different specialty, a different grant or a different mentor. Expect that some advice may seem a bit challenging or contrary to your current approach. You can always reconsider or reject the ideas later, but in the moment be an active listener by paraphrasing your mentor’s suggestions and bring up specific ways you can incorporate at least one or two ideas that you like the most. This also allows for clarification to ensure you are both on the same page.
Be the captain
You determine when to start, stop, and sail. A mentor might check in with you from time to time, but don’t depend on that. You direct the rudder, you stand at the helm. Set your own schedule for when to send an email to report your progress or request a follow-up meeting. Don’t wait for permission to speak up about an idea or to ask for feedback, but rather be direct and straightforward as issues arise. Also, remember it’s OK to say no to the mentor’s suggestions and to part ways if your needs change. You, not your mentor, decide where your career goes, and hopefully the mentor can provide you with some directions, maps, and almanacs to help you chart your own path.
Bring a notebook and pen
Bring something to write on or open up the notes app. Also, bring your completed worksheet. Be prepared with questions written down or typed up to keep the meeting on track and moving along with purpose. Respect each other’s time and keep the conversation going with a list of topics you want to discuss. Towards the end of the meeting, use the notebook or device to write down actionable tasks and a follow-up timeline. Also, take note of what advice the mentor gave you that really stood out as thought-provoking or inspiring, so you can give proper credit later. Rewarding the mentor with recognition can energize them to continue to mentoring.
Now you are properly equipped for an effective and efficient mentoring meeting. You are ready to proceed. Relax, take a seat and smooth sailing!
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