Mentoring: Taking The Next Steps

Online session covers how to select a mentor as well as how to end a mentoring relationship

8 August 2008

Why are you dillydallying? You’ve heard about IEEE’s Mentoring Connection program, and you believe you could benefit from having someone to talk with about your work and career. In fact, you’ve already signed up. But you’ve hesitated taking the next steps: choosing a mentor and coming up with a mentoring agreement and an action plan.

If that situation fits you, you are not alone. More than 70 percent of those who opted for a mentoring connection, and attended an IEEE online orientation seminar in May, have not been matched with mentors. They learned at that session, which ran about 75 minutes and is archived on the IEEE Web site  how to select a mentor and get the maximum benefit from the relationship once it gets going. They even learned how to end a mentoring connection—which is important to get straight at the start of the relationship.

If one thing came across clearly at the orientation, it’s that commitment by the person being mentored is essential for success. Session presenters Kathy Wentworth Drahosz and Jennifer Cunningham, each a certified professional behavioral analyst with the Mentoring Connection, the company in Montclair, Va., that runs the IEEE’s Mentoring Web site, emphasize that mentoring is a mentee-driven process; to succeed it must be a high priority in the mentee’s life. Successful mentees, they say, don’t fear change, and they’re unafraid to follow developmental suggestions from their mentors—they are willing to stretch themselves, to push the envelope.

CLEAR GOALS Before deciding whom to approach to be your mentor, have a clear picture of what you want from the relationship. Choose, say, three main goals from among possibilities such as building technical skills, learning how to navigate your organization, expanding your professional network, getting better at multitasking, forging a new career, learning to deal with problem colleagues, and building self-confidence.

When it comes to actually choosing a mentor, start by deciding whether you want someone with a background like yours or someone in another field, one that you may be thinking of exploring. Also consider age, gender, cultural background, and where your mentor resides. Language, of course, is particularly important. Some mentees want to master a second language and thus prefer a mentor fluent in that tongue.

Once you know what you’re looking for, read the mentor biographies posted on the Web site. If those don’t give you enough information, dig deeper. Read the person’s Mentoring Connection application, which contains more than what is in the person’s bio. If, for example, the person says he’s an expert in electric cars, you may want to know whether that expertise is in batteries or in motors. Find out. E-mail the expert. And Google him or her.

CONNECTING When you have a mentor who agrees to work with you, spend time getting to know each other. Discuss whether you work better early in the day or late, whether you like to jump right into projects or slide in slowly, and how you and your mentor prefer to communicate with people. Also, spend time clarifying your goals. Create a mentoring agreement covering such mundane items as how often you’ll meet and for how long. Will you meet in person or over the Web? And who should initiate meetings? Also spell out what you hope to accomplish, what the mentor promises to do (act as a sounding board, share organizational insight, help clarify career goals), and how long you expect the relationship to last. Your agreement should discuss confidentiality, which might be important to you, and include a no-fault termination clause for both parties.

The next step, creating a plan of action, takes longer, but no more than a month. Include such things as a prioritized list of your primary goals, a time line for accomplishing them, and a list of learning activities. For example, if one of your goals is to improve your presentation skills, you might plan to attend a presentation, take note of three things that were particularly effective, incorporate them into your next presentation, and then seek feedback on how well they worked for you. Tips on coming up with your action plan—and much more—are waiting for you in the archived orientation seminar. You can access it at the IEEE Mentoring Connection site and clicking on the link labeled “Recorded session is now available to access.” A mentoring workbook, The Mentoring Guide, posted on the Web site, contains sample agreements, plans, a journal, and more.


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