How To Help Mentees Learn
Mentoring someone makes you a multiplier regardless of how many mentees you have or how long you’ve been a mentor. That being said, each interaction you have with your mentee is an opportunity to maximize results for both of you. Ideally, your mentee has prepared in advance and knows what they want to get out of a meeting or interaction with you, but that may only happen if the mentee has known you for a while or has experience asking the right questions to maximize learning. Other times, your mentee not only needs help with school, life events, or their career, they also need help learning how to learn. When that is the case, part of your guidance as a mentor is to help them with that as well.
Whether you have been assigned to someone as a mentor through a formal program, someone has reached out to you with questions, or the mentoring relationship came to be naturally, look for some of these signs: (1) your mentee doesn’t quite know what to ask, (2) you end up asking probing questions, (3) your meetings end earlier, (4) your meetings start getting repetitive, or (5) there’s no progress or updates from your last meeting. If you see any of these happening, then it’s time for you to set some guidelines. The following are some useful tips to get you started:
Make the ambiguous tangible
For a mentee — especially someone who is new at having a mentor — mentoring is ambiguous. They likely know that this is a powerful tool to advance in life, yet they don’t know how to break it down into digestible pieces such as having a goal and asking the right questions to get to that goal. Call this out and help them know that they need to break it down. Here are a few example questions to make them realize what they want:
- I know it might be hard to think about what you want to get out of these meetings or from my advice. Have you thought about what you want to achieve in the next X [weeks/months/years]?
- Is there a project at [school/work/life] that you are not sure how to tackle? Have you thought about the steps to get to that project or goal?
Note that these are questions and not assertions or statements. As a mentor, you act as a guide — if they don’t know what to ask, ask questions to help them uncover what they need to learn. Otherwise, you might be assuming things on behalf of your mentee without knowing what they really want to achieve.
Ask your mentee to do their homework
Your mentee might not have immediate answers to the sample questions above. And that’s OK — in fact, it would be counterproductive if they jump right in and try to answer the question. Ask them to take their time and do some homework to discover what they want to achieve. In some cases, it’s hard for them to realize what they want — and maybe that’s part of the journey. Still, ask them to do some homework, explore alternatives, dig deep and prepare some building blocks for your next meeting. Here are a few examples of what to suggest as homework:
- For our next meeting, think about these questions [see above]. If you’re not yet sure of what you want to achieve, ask your peers what their goals are, or explore options available in [school/work/friends].
- Once you know (or have a broad idea of) what you want, ask yourself what it would take to get there. When you have those steps — even if vague, ask me about those steps and what you’ll need to accomplish them.
Rules of engagement
Life can get hectic, so it’s completely fine for you — and your mentee — to set some rules of engagement. That means agreeing on meeting hours, communication channels (text message, chat, email, video calls, in-person meetings, etc.). You also want to be clear on expectations — encourage them to come prepared with questions to ask you so they can be intentional in their learning. Let them know that you’d like to hear updates or if your advice has served them well — or not.
With all of this in mind, you’ll keep the ball rolling and maximize the results of your interactions. In the end, you want your mentoring relationship to be fruitful for both parties, and it all starts with knowing how to learn.