Wednesday, November 23


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We've all been in situations where we wanted to ask for help but were afraid we'd look ignorant. What about when you first started using the Internet? Did you understand when people were talking about HTML, FTP, CGI scripts and browsers? Perhaps you are considering a career change. A mentor can be an invaluable person in helping to gain knowledge and become more effective in your job.
What is a mentor? The Webster's New World Dictionary defines it as a wise advisor, teacher or coach. A mentor is someone who has been in or knows your position and who can help make you more effective in your job. They are the most help when you are just starting out, but often stay connected to you throughout your career - another huge benefit to a mentoring relationship - you are creating a network. Having a mentor to go to for help makes all the difference between fumbling through a project and being able to give it your best shot.

Finding a Mentor
The first step is to make some notes about what you'd like to get out of a mentoring relationship. It is easier to ask someone for help if you yourself know what you are asking for.
Make a list of all the people you know who might be able to be your mentor or to help you find a mentor. Be sure to consider the full range of possibilities, including managers and co-workers, family, and friends. Also, look into organizations and associations that might exist for your job. The Internet is an excellent resource for locating these groups.
You can also approach a person you respect and trust, and tell them that you are looking for a mentor to help you improve and learn in your job. Spend a bit of time with them identifying the areas you want assistance with - if they can't commit they may refer you to somebody who can.
When approaching someone to be a mentor, let him or her know exactly what you are trying to achieve. Tell them why you thought they would be a good mentor and then ask if they would be willing, or if they could help you find someone else to be your mentor. If they say "no," don't be discouraged. You want your mentor able and willing to spend time with you.
We want our mentors to give us advice, listen to our questions and be there for us. As a protégé, you also have responsibilities. When you ask for advice, you should then listen to the response and follow through with it. If you don't agree with the answer, discuss it and make sure that you and your mentor understand the situation completely. If you don't have a trusting and open relationship with your mentor, neither of you will gain the benefits.
Maintaining Your Mentoring Relationship
Maintaining or keeping your mentoring relationship going is important to get the kind of help you need. How can you do that? Here are some practical tips for how you (and your mentor) can get the most out of the relationship.
The most important point to remember is that you need to manage the relationship. It's up to you! After all, it's your development and your career. You're responsible for ensuring that the two of you meet on a regular basis, setting goals and tracking progress, and keeping the lines of communication open. With that in mind, here are some specific, practical things that you can do to manage and maintain an on-going relationship.
Maintain regular contact
Maintain regular contact to keep the momentum going. If you don't, your relationship will dwindle. Set a regular schedule if at all possible; say every other Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. or the first and third Fridays for lunch. This way you both have it on your calendar, and you can plan for it.
Respect your mentor's time
Your mentor's time is very valuable. Most mentors are very busy people with a lot of demands on their time. Therefore, make the most of your time together. Be prepared for meetings. Respect your mentor's boundaries. Don't take additional time or call at a late hour without your mentor's permission.
Internalize and apply what you learn
You'll learn a great deal from your mentor. He or she will likely give you advice or offer suggestions. Take that advice to heart, and try the suggestions. Stretch yourself a little and try new things. Most importantly, let your mentor know that you took the advice and what the outcome was. Mentors like to see the results of their efforts.
Follow through
Uphold your promises and commitments. This means returning phone calls, showing up for meetings, following through with assignments, and so forth. Nothing is more discouraging to a mentor than a mentee who doesn't follow through. If you can't follow through with a commitment, let your mentor know as soon as possible. Explain why you can't do it, and negotiate an acceptable solution.
Show appreciation
Let your mentor know how much you appreciate him or her. A "thank you" will go a long way toward nurturing your relationship. You can show your appreciation in person, over the phone, or in writing. A handwritten note is especially impressive, because you took the time to write it, and your mentor can keep and remember it. Be specific in your positive feedback. Let your mentor know what you liked about what he or she did, and how it helped you. Your mentor will be encouraged to give you more help in the future!
Give back
A powerful way to build an even stronger, lasting relationship is to give back to your mentor. Think of ways you could provide assistance to him or her. Maybe you have valuable information or expertise to share. You might be able to introduce your mentor to some helpful contacts, or you could help with a project. By giving back you build a mutually beneficial relationship. By applying these tips you can increase your mentor's motivation, keep the momentum going, and enjoy a long-lasting mentoring relationship that benefits you both!
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