Growing your career in tech is hard, but it’s a lot more manageable when you have people to talk to about problems and get advice. There is where mentors come in. A mentor can be anyone who has some experience and wants to talk to you.
But often finding a mentor and getting the most out of mentorship is harder than it needs to be. After facilitating thousands of hours of mentorship, Merit has collected some tips and tricks for getting the most out of mentorship.
What is mentorship?
Mentorship is a way to grow your career and a more meaningful way to network in the industry.
But “mentorship” is also a loaded term. It could mean anything from asking for help in one difficult situation to building a long-term relationship where the mentor coaches and leads the mentee. The type of relationship or structure is dependent on what you want to get out of it: a session to get feedback, a long-term mentor over a period of months, or to chat every week or month.
How to pick a mentor?
- Talk to many people; sometimes you won’t know who will be helpful until you talk to them. It takes multiple perspectives and people to grow your career.
- Having multiple mentors also takes the pressure off anyone single person to be responsible for your progress or momentum.
- Be flexible on the role — sometimes people outside your role and discipline can still have great advice.
Where to find mentors?
If you already have an established network:
- Current or former coworkers: Especially if they are someone more senior whom you admire.
- School or alumni groups: People who’ve graduated or even peers can make good mentors.
- Community groups: There are lots of community groups that are based around roles, location, or identities (e.g., Out in Tech, Ladies Get Paid, Black Girls Code) that have lots of senior people to talk to.
If you are looking to expand your network, here are some places to explore:
- LinkedIn: This is the largest network but the hardest to navigate and connect with. The odds of someone responding to your cold DMs are low, but everyone has a LinkedIn profile.
- Twitter: There is tech twitter. Tech Twitter is smaller than LinkedIn, but you can still get a sense of someone’s thinking and personality. Like on LinkedIn, you can still DM folks. Here there’s a higher chance of them responding, but the odds are still low.
- Mentorship platforms: On mentorship platforms, mentors have profiles, topics they’re happy to discuss with you, and a schedule of their availability. These platforms have fewer people than other social networks, but the folks on these platforms are specifically there to mentor so you’re much more likely to hear back after reaching out.
How do I approach mentorship sessions?
- Be specific: With the time (e.g., 30 minutes) and the topic (i.e., “I would love some advice on how to ask my boss for a promotion to Senior PM”). This allows the other person to prepare but also approach the session with ideas before it starts.
- Share context: When asking for advice on a problem or situation, provide background on the issue and what you’ve tried as well as the context of your team and company. All this information helps the mentor adjust and tune their advice.
- Respect people’s time: Once you commit to a date and time, send any relevant materials in advance and be sure to arrive and end on time.
- Listen: This is the most important part! People want to help people who listen to advice and suggestions. Try to soak in as much as possible. Ask follow-up and clarifying questions.
- Say thanks and follow up: This is a very common thing that most people don’t do. First, just send a note to say thank you. Follow up in a week or month after you’ve tried the things your mentor suggested. It doesn’t have to always be good news or major things but just a simple note is enough to help close the loop.
How to mentorship longer term?
Over a long period of time, we are all co-workers.
Mentorship never truly ends; it just transforms. Sometimes you talk to someone once or twice, or regularly for a few months, or once in a while over many years. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mentorship. A good way to think about it is to give more than you take and to approach each interaction with empathy and openness.
Offer to help
Just because you are a junior doesn’t mean you can’t help. Often times more senior folks want to learn from you, your process, your insights, and your network.
Mentorship and recruiting overlap
Hiring managers and tech workers are getting more hip to taking a longer view on these kinds of relationships. Your mentees or mentors now could be someone you work for or works for you later. The line between recruiting and mentorship is being blurred.
If you are looking for a mentor in product, design, or engineering. Merit has hundreds of mentors that are available to talk to.