two colleagues in a meeting
Becoming a mentor is a great honor and good for your career, but it can also be very daunting. These tips will help you become an excellent resource to those under your wing. — Getty Images/Nikola Ilic

Breaking into a new industry can be challenging, which is why many young professionals seek out mentors in their field. With mentoring efforts rising by 30% in recent years, newcomers have utilized this resource to better understand their industry and carve out potential career paths.

Mentorship involves a partnership between veteran and newcomer professionals, where the experienced individual offers knowledge and guidance through advice, insights, or strategies. A successful mentor-mentee dynamic is mutually beneficial, allowing both parties to expand their networks, strengthen skills, and fill in gaps in their knowledge. Mentors also have an opportunity to improve their leadership skills during this time, which can positively impact their professional development.

If you have an opportunity to mentor a colleague, here are nine ways to help you maximize the potential of the relationship and become a great mentor.

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 each party needs from this mentorship, set clear expectations with the mentee, 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 more: Top Executives Share Best Advice from Mentors]

Find resources

There are ample resources available to help mentors and mentees connect; sometimes, these resources exist within your own company. See if your company has an established mentoring program because they generally offer more formal training and structured frameworks to ensure you’re paired with the right mentee for an effective partnership.

Throughout your time as a mentor, be on the lookout for resources and opportunities that promote both your and your mentee’s growth. Share relevant workshops, conferences, and professional development opportunities that align with their interests and career path, and advise them on additional training courses or education that could improve their skills. Also, look for opportunities where you can leverage your network to create connections that support your mentee’s growth.

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 the timing fits both your schedules and is mutually agreed upon.

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 genuine connection and empathize with your mentee

According to Leigh Higginbotham Butler, CEO and Founder of Akina, being empathic toward your mentee and listening to their needs are key to being an effective mentor. When you build a personal relationship with a mentee, you come to understand their point of view, goals, and challenges they face, leading to a more fruitful partnership, grounded in mutual respect and understanding.

To encourage open communication, Butler advocates for creating a trusting environment where mentees feel safe to express themselves.

“Creating a space where trust and open chats are the norm makes mentees feel comfortable reaching out and opening up,” Butler said. “Showing empathy and giving advice that’s tailored just for them helps mentees overcome hurdles, grab opportunities, and chase their professional dreams with great confidence.”

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 your mentee to make their own decisions

In most cases, you will have much more knowledge and experience than your mentee on a variety of issues. While it can be tempting to tell your protege what to do and how to do it, this habit won’t encourage them to learn and grow — rather, it risks reducing the relationship to something more akin to a supervisor and employee dynamic, where instructions are given rather than insights shared.

Instead of directly instructing your mentee on any given topic, help them develop critical-thinking skills and see outside the box by offering guidance while encouraging them to act independently. Being a teacher, rather than providing explicit instruction on how to solve problems, offers support to mentees while enabling them to work through problems on their own. In some cases, your mentee may choose a tactic you had not considered.

[Read more: 5 Steps to Developing a Successful Business Mentoring Program]

Give personalized advice to your mentee

No two mentees are the same; therefore, the advice you give each mentee should cater to their individual goals, strengths, and barriers, noted Kerry Mitchell Brown, Ph.D., Founder and Principal of KMB and an organizational equity strategist. She believes it’s a senior professional's job to push mentees beyond their boundaries while providing them support by leading, motivating, and empowering them.

“By listening closely, you can tailor your advice to be insightful, practical, and relevant to their specific situation,” Brown said. “This means moving beyond general advice to help them plan how to tackle challenges, grab opportunities, and make important decisions.”

Providing mentees with the tailored support they need enables them to successfully navigate their future and reach their full potential.

Celebrate growth and successes

Mentees often look up to their mentors as role models, seeking their approval and reassurance that their efforts are noticed and valued. Therefore, celebrating their growth and professional achievements can be a great motivator for mentees to keep pushing forward despite challenges. Showing support through recognition can also build their confidence by reaffirming mentees’ efforts and demonstrating your genuine investment in their success.

These gestures don’t have to be grand — a thoughtful email or letter, a nice gift, or a celebratory meal together can all convey your congratulations. Consider asking your mentee for their preference to ensure the gesture is meaningful to them.

[Read more: PepsiCo’s SVP Shares How His Mentor’s Guidance Made Him a Better Leader]

This article was originally written by Sean Peek.

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