The role of the mentee

The Link Mentorship Program

by Melissa L. Schlimm

  1. That is the number of mentors I had throughout my career journey – including studies.

I would dare to say, that none of them are aware of how much they contributed to my professional development, although this is the list of my mentors looking back at my last 16 years of working.

It’s a long list and most of them don’t know that I had selected them as my informal mentor. The first 6 mentors of mine were my source for career advice and three are the exception, because they were my official mentors in the classical scheme of things: a senior was appointed to guide and advise me, the then junior.

When thinking about the role of the mentee, I reflect on my own mentorships as a mentee and what made it work. Far and foremost, for me it is the will to learn from the person that was my mentor, a lot of work and my motivation to drive this relationship to a success. And that counts even more, when you have no official mentorship, and everything happens informally. You use the last minutes of a meeting, you drop a question at the elevator (although you have no need to use it), you observe the mentor in team meetings and find a way to ask more of your questions. In short: you drive this.

This becomes easier when it is an official mentorship and you get a dedicated time in the calendar of your mentor – or how I did it often, create a business case to get advice. It complicated the mentorship as well though, as you become the person whose interest is on top of someone’s mind and for whom a lot of effort is put in. There is a danger in becoming a passive mentee and to hand over the responsibility for their own development into the hands of the mentor. Because the mentor is not the driver or door-opener, the person who pulls away the stones on your way or a crutch. These may all be supporting functions, of a mentor, but the responsibility lies solely with the mentee being active and creating the baseline, so that the mentor can actually mentor.

The role of the mentee needs to be an active and driving role, which requires a lot of work and effort, so not everyone may benefit from mentoring. There are a few personal characteristics which help to be successful:

  • Drive to grow
    • personally, and professionally
    • being open for feedback
    • accepting the support
    • willingness to take risks
  • Constant self-reflection
    • have a clear self-image
    • checking in what to invest time on regarding career and personal development
  • Self-management
    • being organized
    • be patient with own development
    • be consistent and disciplined with learning

So before applying as a mentee check the requirements on the picture and clarify for yourself your basic attitude and expectations towards mentoring and your mentor. Self-reflect as well and think about whether you can currently play the role of an active mentee who actually has prepare for the mentor meetings.

As a mentor myself, the best mentoring meetings were the prepared ones. So below is a collection of activities that can accompany the mentorship and are drivers for success:

  1. Define your goals and self-reflect (SMART and honest)
  2. Prepare and Debrief your mentor meetings
    – Self-evaluation of your activities and the impact of the meetings,
    – What works well and what doesn’t work so well
    – Analyze the developments and maybe redefine your goals
    – Set up the meetings, keep in touch with the mentors and suggest topics prior to the mentoring
  3. Update the stakeholders of the mentoring process (high level – no details)

As a mentee you accept a lot of support that comes with responsibility and whoever applies as a mentee, should have clearly defined her expectations and ask herself “What will I have to invest in that relationship and am I 100% ready to do so?”