Get the Best From Your Mentor Relationship

July 12, 2023
David Vossbrink, APR
Get the Best From Your Mentor Relationship

David Vossbrink has worked in local government communications for nearly a half century, and he retired as Director of Communications for the City of San Jose in 2017. He has been a long-time board member of PRSA Silicon Valley and served as chapter president.

I’ve been a mentor to many people over my long career, both formally and informally, and both within the PR profession and outside of it. It’s led to mutually rewarding relationships, but sometimes it’s also been frustrating when mentees haven’t taken full advantage of the opportunity of working with a seasoned pro.

Based on this long experience, here’s my advice to you when entering a mentoring relationship.

1. Own it. Don’t be shy, and please don’t wait for your mentor (however you’ve found one) to take all the responsibility for initiating and maintaining your ongoing conversation.

As a mentor, I want to hear from you what are your goals, needs, and questions. I don’t read minds, and I can’t help you with your priorities unless you tell me what they are. And unless we have regularly scheduled meetings, I’m not likely to keep you top of mind.

I’m a volunteer who’s happy to give you my time and guidance on matters that are professionally important to you. It’s a safe relationship: I’m not your professor giving you grades, nor your boss giving you your annual review. I'm not your therapist, either, though I’ve been around the block and learned from life the hard way. Ask me about my stories.

Please prepare for your meetings with me. Make a list of your questions, problems, and other topics you want to discuss, and send me any material you want us to talk about ahead of time so I can review it and do a little extra digging.

And let me know if it’s not working for you—it’s OK to pull the plug if we don’t have a good match.

2. Build a relationship. Mentoring is not transactional, and I can’t get you a job interview or a raise. But I can help you think through how you can prepare and position yourself for a job or a promotion.

Get to know me while I get to know you. Pay attention to the little things, whether it’s about pets or pet peeves. I had one mentee who had one very narrow goal: get promoted to the next rung. But she never tried to learn about me, and thus I never learned much about her. I never did hear if she ever got that promotion. You’re a communicator—communicate!

However, I’ve had other mentees who’ve become friends, and we still remain in touch over the years, exchanging information, successes, and questions.

Make this relationship beneficial for both of us. Help me understand your world, whether it’s current popular culture or new technology affecting your work. Think of it as “reverse mentoring”—we can learn from each other.

Say “please” and “thank you.” That should go without saying, but unfortunately, it still must be said. A good relationship is based on respect and gratitude.

3. Be open to advice, be open to criticism. After all, this is a learning opportunity for your professional development. None of us is perfect, and we can all make improvements, even if change is hard.

This also means being accountable for your commitments. If you say you’re going to try something based on our conversation, then do it, and tell me how it went. And don’t be afraid to challenge me, either. The workplace rewards confidence, and that confidence is earned by taking risks: learn when—and how—to speak up; and when and how to sign up.

We all gain from getting feedback, and that doesn’t just mean criticism. I can help by letting you know what you’re doing right, too, as well as where you have some opportunities for growth and development.

4. Consider having a mentor outside of your field. Navigating a large or complex organization takes wisdom and guidance, and a mentor who’s knowledgeable about your workplace can be invaluable.

Although I’m a communicator, I’ve worked successfully with mentees who were accountants, engineers, and administrators by sharing organizational insights that go beyond a job description. As a part of senior management with a lot of years inside several organizations, I was able to share my knowledge of corporate histories, institutional processes, and awareness of personality types to help my mentees with their challenges.

Organizations actually have a lot in common, and, of course, people are people. Pick my brain about those larger issues rather than merely focusing on your next campaign.

Resources and tips for mentees

There’s no end of good information available about getting the most out of your mentor relationship. Here are a few examples.

Mentee Toolkit, National Institutes for Health

Here’s how to be a good mentee, The Vector Impact

Being a Mentee, UC Davis Career Center

What are the skills and qualities that make a good mentee? LinkedIn

How to be a master mentee, Axios

4 Ways to Be a Great Mentee (Hint: It's Not All About You), The Muse

Sign up for our newsletter

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.