What to ask mentor?
February 4, 2015 9:15 PM   Subscribe

I work for a large company where the idea of mentorship is encouraged. I will be meeting someone in a different department who I would love to work for. I am unfamiliar with exactly what a mentor can provide from a career standpoint.

I am wondering what I should be asking this person. For instance, they are in charge of hiring and have multiple positions available that I would love to work in. (roles that I actually can do and have been training towards).

I don't want to create issues or feel like I am taking advantage of the situation, but I would love to position myself for some of the roles this person is hiring for. I know I shouldn't talk about the open roles at my meeting coming up, but what would be appropriate and would be beneficial for both them and myself?
posted by gregjunior to Work & Money (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
One thing you can do is just talk about what you're working on, things you've learned or seen or been surprised by, anything you're thinking about. They may be able to point out things you didn't know, like that person X on team Y can help you with project Z. A lot of these will be questions that you didn't even know to ask. And at the same time, you're helping your mentor get to know you and your interests (which will also help them think of you if they can ever use you for something).

Along the same lines, ask them what they're working on, and then dive deeper, getting them to teach you some of the details of any part that you'd like to learn more about.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:44 PM on February 4, 2015

Be careful. I would drop a mentee like a hot potato if I felt they were angling for a job.

In my view, the first conversation between a mentor and mentee should talk about what both of you expect and want from the relationship.

Mentoring is not a substitute for training-- I see it mostly as a channel for transmitting informal knowledge which draws from experience and social capital. ("I'm in a tricky political situation, how would you suggest I approach it? Do you know these people?") Some other folks see it more as coaching-- so it's a good idea to talk about what you both expect.

I've had really bad mentors (really wanted me to do what he said) and great mentors (a peer mentor from a leadership training who has become my boss today).

Questions I often found myself asking:

What would you do if you were me?
Is there anything I can do to help you?
Who do you think I should talk to about ...?
posted by frumiousb at 10:07 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Your mentor is presumably more senior than you, so at the first meeting just be upfront and say that while you're excited to spend time with them and think you can learn a lot from them, you've never had a formal mentor and you're not sure what to do or ask. Ask your mentor what s/he expects from this relationship.

Here are some things your mentor can do for you:
- Give you context about your company. They may know things about internal politics that you don't, or have tips about how to deal with specific people and situations.
- Help you increase your skills. If you want to get up to speed on a certain topic, or work on your public speaking, they can point you to resources within the company.
- Tell you how things really work. For instance, this person does hiring -- you can ask them questions about what they actually look for in hiring. Or if you want to ask for a raise, they can tell you how that works.
- Introduce you to people in the company who you want to meet.

In general, when you have a question, are facing a problem, or have a goal you want to achieve, you can ask your mentor for advice.

People who sign up to be mentors may be doing it because they have to (the company strongly encourages it), or because they enjoy giving advice. If it's the former and they don't seem excited about being your mentor, then try to be prepared with specific questions or topics to discuss with them. If it's the latter, they are likely to be more tolerant of just chatting about work stuff. Either way, what they are getting out of this is recognition from the company that they're doing their part, and the satisfaction of helping you. So when your mentor gives you advice, be sure to follow up and then let your mentor know that you took their advice and how it helped you.

Don't ask your mentor for a job, but keep in mind that this is an opportunity for them to get to know you. Act interested in what their department does. Over time, if you develop a good relationship and think they would be receptive, you can be more open about your desire to move into their department.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:23 AM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you should actually not work for your mentor. That's because the role of mentor is different from that of your supervisor, and may actually conflict with your supervisor's role at times. Your supervisor will coach you along with your skills, decide your work assignments (with your input, hopefully), rate your performance, and that kind of thing. But your supervisor really has little immediate incentive for you to outgrow the job you're in now. (In theory and in the long run, they do, but that comes second to getting the job done now.)

Your mentor will do bigger picture things like advise you on your options for career trajectory and help you think of a strategy to get to your career goals, start helping you build a network around the company outside your work group, keep an eye out for professional development opportunities, be an advisor how to handle awkward situations like a conflict with your supervisor...

In a first meeting, there's not really much you can ask for or be expected to ask for. It's a getting to know you thing. Just talk about what you want out of your career. Where do you see yourself in 10 years, management? Or would you just be happy to do a great job for the next 30 years with no pressure to take on more, more, more? Equally valid, and would be important for your mentor to know. I actually wouldn't avoid mentioning that you're interested in your mentor's department. If you are, you are, no sense pretending. Just expect that if you do move there, you'll have to get a different mentor then.
posted by ctmf at 7:50 PM on February 5, 2015

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