two colleagues in a meeting
From honing your listening skills to providing encouragement, there are several ways to groom yourself to become a valuable and effective mentor. — Getty Images/Nikola Ilic

As you advance in your career, you may be approached by young up-and-comers who would like to tap into your experience. You may even come across a promising individual who you want to take under your wing. And there’s good reason to become a mentor, as a case study at Sun Microsystems found that both mentors and mentees have an increased chance of receiving a raise over those who do not participate in a mentoring program.

While you may be tempted to dive right into a mentorship, it’s important to prepare a plan and examine potential mentees’ career goals and measure them against your own. These five tips will help you become an excellent mentor and advance your own career.

[Read: How to Be a Great Leader During a Crisis]

Establish expectations

Before you start mentoring a promising candidate, explain your role and how you can best serve them. Answer any questions they have and determine what kind of mentorship they are looking for, such as a coach, educator or networker.

Once you have a solid understanding of what your mentee needs in a mentor, set clear expectations, such as showing up for meetings on time, coming prepared with specific issues to discuss and being direct and honest.

Set goals

It’s important to set realistic goals with your mentee so you both can track and measure progress. If your mentee works within your organization, help them align their goals to the company’s primary objectives. When possible, meet with their manager and ask them what areas they would like to see their employee improve on. Regardless if you work in the same organization or not, set SMART goals that meet the following criteria:

  • Specific: Help your mentee identify one very specific goal they would like to achieve.
  • Measurable: Ensure their goals are measurable so they can track their progress.
  • Achievable: Guide them towards realistic goals, or break large goals into smaller achievable steps.
  • Relevant: Ensure their goals are aligned with their role and their company’s vision.
  • Time-based: Set reasonable but firm time limits on their goals and establish regular check-in meetings to keep them on track.

[Read: How to Write a Career Development Plan for Your Employees]

If you want to become an effective mentor, develop your listening skills so you can really hear your mentee’s questions and concerns.

Create a schedule

When you take on a mentee, it’s important to meet on a consistent basis so they have the opportunity to ask for your guidance. However, it’s also important to establish clear boundaries, especially if you are not their direct supervisor. Your role as a mentor is to listen and advise, not to fix their issues. A regular schedule will allow them to voice their questions or concerns without them taking an excessive amount of your time. You can schedule meetings bimonthly, once a week or even once a day so long as it fits both your schedules and is mutually agreed upon.

Listen before you advise

It’s not uncommon for experienced coworkers to offer unwanted advice and treat younger employees as fresh sponges they can fill with knowledge. Great mentors are, first and foremost, great listeners. If you want to become an effective mentor, develop your listening skills so you can really hear your mentee’s questions and concerns.

Once you have absorbed everything your mentee has to say, consider it carefully and then share your opinions and/or advice. Whenever you have a chance, ask for their point of view on a given issue or topic. At worst, you will provide specific, thought out advice for your mentee to act on. At best, you will both walk away from the meeting with new insights and a fresh perspective.

Encourage them to make their own decisions

In most cases, you will have much more knowledge and experience than your mentee on a variety of issues. It can be tempting to tell your protege what to do and how to do it, but this habit won’t encourage them to learn and grow. Instead of directly instructing your mentee on any given topic, help them develop critical-thinking skills and see outside the box. In some cases, your mentee may choose a tactic you had not considered.

[Read: A Guide to Continuing Professional Development]

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