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"A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself."
Oprah Winfrey’s rags-to-riches story has changed the way many of us look at the world.
And that’s not just because her story is inspirational. It’s because she uses her story and life experience to mentor as many people as possible.
If you’ve thought of giving back, but you’re unsure how, taking someone under your wing may be just what you need.
Read on to learn how to be a mentor and what a mentor does.
We’ll also share the three most common types of mentors and how you can get started.
What does a mentor do?
A mentor is a trusted advisor that offers support to someone who needs it (aka a ‘mentee’).
Every mentoring relationship is different — some last for years while some last one coffee date. A long-term relationship may include a planned mentoring program. A short-term relationship may involve helping the mentee work through a specific problem.
For instance, a long-term relationship may include scheduled meetings where the mentor shares their experience, knowledge, and connections with the mentee.
And a short-term relationship may be a conversation about the mentee's career path.
In the end, mentors have three things in common. They motivate, inspire, and support. They give mentees the tools they need to achieve their goals and work through challenges.
They can be a role model, voice of reason, or a trusted resource that helps mentees grow professionally.
They value delivering support in a way that makes sense to the mentee. And they always keep the mentee’s best interest in mind.
Depending on the mentee’s needs, a mentor:
- Offers encouragement during challenging times
- Provides personal development tips
- Shares knowledge and life experiences
- Discusses goal setting and aspirations
- Advises on professional development
- Identifies and provides resources.
- Supports the mentee’s journey toward progress
Types of mentors
There are many different kinds of mentors and mentoring sessions, each with their own set of skills and methods.
In this section, we’ll cover the three main types of mentors: career mentors, peer mentors, and life mentors.
A career mentor serves as a career advisor and advocate. They guide mentees on career goals and help them work through career transitions.
Career mentors are usually seniors to their mentees at the same company, but they can also work at a different company.
For instance, the mentor might be a manager, and the mentee might be an employee at the same company. Or the mentor might be a regional manager, and the mentee might be a district manager.
A peer mentor typically offers on-the-job training for new employees at their company. The goal is to help mentees settle into their new jobs and speed up the learning curve.
Peer mentors focus on teaching work procedures and job skills and offering job resources.
A life mentor uses their own past experience to encourage and support their mentee.
Life mentors can be professionals or everyday people, like family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors.
They may offer career support, personal development support, or both.
Note: if a mentee needs career support, a life mentor shouldn’t replace a peer or career mentor. But a life mentor can also be invaluable for imparting career wisdom.
How to become a mentor: 4 skills you need
In this section, we’ll go over four skills you need to become an effective mentor.
- Experience in the area you’re mentoring someone
You can’t be an effective mentor if you don’t have experience in the area of expertise your mentee needs. For instance, if your mentee is thinking of becoming a nurse, it probably makes sense for you to have nursing experience.
- The ability to teach at an individual level
To become a mentor, you need leadership skills. You need to be able to customize your approach to the specific person you’re mentoring.
You need to be able to read a person to see if a teaching approach is working or not. And you need to know how to course-correct and adapt when needed.
- The desire to help someone reach their potential
A great mentor wants to see their mentee reach soaring heights. They want them to fulfill their goals and live their fullest life. They want them to feel invigorated.
- Communication skills
Every mentor needs proper communication skills to have a successful mentor-mentee relationship. It's the only way to discuss how to develop the mentee’s path forward.
Why is being a mentor important?
Mentors understand the stresses and fears that come with new careers and challenges. Since they’ve been down the same road before, they can guide another person through the journey.
Being a mentor is also important because it:
- Shapes future leaders
Providing guidance and training to new employees is essential to shaping future leaders. Mentees may one day be in high-authority positions. With the right training, they’ll be able to thrive in their leadership roles.
- Strengthens your leadership skills
One of the best ways to be a better leader is to practice. When you have a mentee under your wing, you’ll have that chance. As time passes and your mentorship experience and involvement increases, so will your leadership skills.
- Teaches you new skills
There’s no better way to learn than to teach. Teaching helps you strengthen the lessons you’ve already learned. It also helps you learn new skills you may not have had. For instance, you may learn how to be a better listener and communicator.
- Helps increase the mentees’ confidence
There’s nothing like seeing your mentee beam with confidence. Learning how to reach goals helps give mentees a confidence boost.
How to mentor someone: 6 mentoring tips
Here are six tips for being a good mentor to help get you started:
1. Get clarity on what the mentee needs
Asking the mentee questions is the first step to gaining clarity about what they need. When you ask questions, you’re uncovering who they are and what patterns they have. Then you can use their answers to guide them on their path to self-discovery.
You should also teach the mentee to ask themselves questions. And to use their own insight to answer them well. This way, they’ll have the tools they need to be independent and successful.
Here are some examples of questions you can ask:
- What change do you want to see in the next three months, year, and five years?
- What are your career goals?
- What are your personal goals?
- What do you think is holding you back from reaching your goals?
2. Dig deeper
After you’ve asked some basic questions, it’s time to dig a little deeper with probing questions.
The goal is to uncover why they feel or believe a certain way so that you know how to help them. This also helps you discover if any roadblocks might get in the way of their success.
Here are some examples of probing questions to ask:
- What made you decide on this career move?
- How did you decide which goals to have?
- Why do you think ___ is holding you back from reaching your goals?
- What are you most afraid of and why?
3. Brainstorm ideas
Once you’ve asked enough questions to understand your mentee’s mission, it’s time to brainstorm ideas. This is a great opportunity to brainstorm ideas together to co-create the mentee’s future.
For instance, let’s say the mentee wants to change careers but is unsure what path to take. You can conduct an exercise together to help them find their dream career.
Or let’s say they want to be a professional artist but don’t know what medium to choose. As an experienced artist, you can help them brainstorm the pros and cons of different mediums.
4. Share stories
Sharing stories is a great way to illustrate an idea or lesson. Stories show the mentee that you understand what they’re going through. They also help you build a personal connection with the mentee.
For instance, let’s say your mentee is struggling to get along with their manager. You can share a story about how you struggled with a previous manager and how you got through it.
5. Create a plan
Once you’ve gotten to know the mentee well, make an action plan to help them reach their goals.
Do they want to be a lawyer? Create education and career goals. Then, discuss internship possibilities.
Are they a new hire at your company? Create a training plan. Then, have them shadow another employee.
6. Introduce them to your network
A great way to help a mentee boost their career is by introducing them to your network. This isn’t required, but it can be rewarding for both of you.
If you’re on board, consider being choosy with who you introduce them to. And make sure you get permission from both parties beforehand.
For instance, let’s say your mentee is trying to decide between being a financial advisor and a loan officer. While it may be tempting to introduce them to everybody, try targeting people in those two fields.
Then, give the mentee space to develop those relationships over time.
Note: when networking, make sure to coach your mentee on building long-term relationships.
How to be a good mentor
Here are four areas to focus on to become a good mentor:
1. Be willing to offer constructive criticism
Offering constructive criticism is essential to helping your mentee progress toward their goals.
When doing this:
- Make sure to first point out something positive
- Draw on your own experiences to show empathy and understanding
- Offer them guidance to improve their work
Here’s an example:
“Great job solving that customer’s concern today. We could’ve lost her if it wasn’t for you. A few years ago, I had an irate customer too. It took me longer than expected to solve his problem, but he walked away happy. I noticed the same thing happened to you. To help speed up the process next time, transfer the customer to the resolution team. They’ll solve her problem quicker so you can focus on more important tasks.”
2. Have empathy
Understanding how your mentee feels is vital to connecting with them on a deeper level. This also helps you decide the best approach to use when guiding them.
For instance, if the mentee is feeling overwhelmed, you’ll know to take it one step at a time. If they’re feeling invigorated, you’ll know they can handle a bit more.
3. Put the responsibility in the mentee’s hands
As a mentor, your job is to guide and inspire — not do the work for them.
After modeling how to complete a task, ask the mentee to give it a try. Then do the same with the next task. Do this until the mentee has gotten the chance to practice all necessary tasks.
You can also give your mentee ‘homework’ so they can continue practicing when you’re not around. If you assign homework, make sure to go over their work with them when you see them again.
For instance, let’s say you’re mentoring a soon-to-be customer service manager. You could hand them a list of simulated customer service issues. Their homework could be writing down how they’d handle each issue.
4. Know how to communicate and listen
A mentor-mentee relationship can’t survive without healthy communication and listening.
Your number one task as a mentor is to be in the passenger’s seat. You’re there to listen, give feedback, and guide. You’re not there to drive or control the car.
To practice this, focus on active listening. When your mentee brings up a concern, validate their feelings. Then, look for a solution.
Here’s an example:
Mentee: “I can’t decide between med school and law school. Both sound intriguing, but I just don’t know which one to pick.”
Mentor: “I hear you. Deciding on a career path can be challenging. How about we spend the next week brainstorming the pros and cons of each side?”