7 Ways To Be a Successful Mentee

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Posted December 31st, 2014 by adminguy

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Very few things of worth in this world can thrive without adequate and sustained effort, and the relationship between a mentor and mentee is no different. In the recent past we explained why it is important for programmers to find great mentors, and ways to actually find them. If you have been following this blog, you might remember us mentioning that finding a great mentor is only half the work, the other half is cultivating the relationship by being a great mentee.


There are many people - some really busy ones too - who would love to spend their time mentoring others. But just like you might be having a hard time finding great mentors, they are having a hard time finding great people to mentor. A big reason is, those who seek mentoring do not make it worth the mentor's effort to sacrifice time from their already busy schedule. Mentors don't provide guidance for money or fame - it's likely they already have both - they provide guidance to help someone achieve their dreams by sharing their hard earned wisdom to guide the young and inexperienced make good choices from a labyrinth of confusing pathways. But very often mentoring sessions do not proceed in a way the mentor feels is fruitful; or the mentor may feel like they are being made to spoon-feed the mentee who wants nothing more than someone who will make all the choices for them. Either ways the sessions gradually fizzle out, leaving the world and the mentee deprived of good advise which might have had a profound impact on their life.


In this article I am going to talk about what you as a mentee should do - and should not do - to ensure a thriving relationship with your mentors. Like most good advise it may not be rocket science, but it is certainly advise that is overlooked more often than not, making it worthy of repeating once again.


Be proactive


Nobody likes to help someone who is lazy and wants others to solve their problems for them. What this means is, you have to own your problems, background research and decisions. You have to make it easy for the mentor to help you by explaining to them clearly the problem you are grappling with, the solutions you have either tried or thought of, and why it is difficult for you to make a decision. This way the mentor has a better picture of what you are dealing with and will probably know what to ask you to get the information they need to offer help.


In the process of helping, a mentor might ask you to research something, or look something up and get back to them with the findings. If your mentor asks this of you, be sure to respond on time. If you don't it will tell the mentor that you don't care to put in any effort in solving your own problems - so why should they?


Always be on time


This one may seem obvious, but never, ever..ever keep your mentor waiting. Be on time at worst, or be a little ahead of schedule at best. I can't stress enough on the importance of this habit. It shows that you are capable of being organized in your own work and care about your mentor's time.


Be Humble But Be Yourself


No one likes helping Mr. Know It All. Be open minded, attentive and curious when listening to your mentor. After all you have approached your mentor for help, and not to show off your own knowledge. But being humble does not mean nodding your head every time your mentor says something. It is important for them to understand you, your priorities, where you are coming from and what you aspire to do in life. By being natural and by being yourself, you implicitly inform your mentor about all these things (and there is nothing wrong in telling them explicitly either). However on a cautionary note, be mindful that being yourself with friends is different than being yourself with your mentor. You may want to keep that vivid and colorful vocabulary - which you enjoy using with your friends - safely locked up when you are with your mentor.


Learn To Ask Good Questions


Asking good questions is an extremely important skill. Don't ask questions like:

"what career path should I take?"

It's too broad. It is not possible for your mentor to get inside your mind and give advise that's right for you. Instead place a few options, explain the pros and cons from your point of view, explain where you are stuck, and then ask for help. So instead of asking which career path you should take, you could ask

"I have a couple of job offers, one is from a startup working on a great product, and the other is from a large company. If I work for the startup I will learn a lot  but I will also have to move to another city away from my family. On the other hand if I take up the job with this large corporation, I will get a chance to work with a stable company and also be close to my family."

This question will give a better understanding of the choices you are trying to make, and what priorities you are considering while making these choices.


If your question is technical - related to a programming or software architecture issue, be sure to do some groundwork beforehand. Don't just ask "how should I solve this problem?". Instead tell them the problem, show them what you have already done to solve it, and why those attempts did not work. This way the mentor knows that you have put in sufficient effort and are truly stuck. They also know what you have already tried out and why it did not work. Having this knowledge will put them in a far better position to help you.


Help Your Mentor


Your mentor is being generous with her time in helping you, and you should return the favor if you get an opportunity. Maybe you could help them write a small script to automate some tasks, or to maintain their blog. You don't have to pester them by asking how you could help them, but if you sense someplace you could help, then be proactive and make their life a little bit easier.


Make It Fun and Worthwhile For Your Mentor To Invest Their Time in You


Your mentor probably needs a break just like everyone else and it's always more fun to meet people in a recreational setting. If you know your mentor goes for a jog every Saturday, you could ask them if you could jog together. Or you could catch up with them over a game of tennis. Here's an opportunity to make your mentor actually look forward to meeting you, if you both have common interests or hobbies. It will help save them time, and get healthier; all in the process of helping you.


Express Gratitude


Finally, this may seem obvious, but always remember the sacrifices - however small - your mentor is making for you. Express sincere gratitude and tell them how much you appreciate their time and help.