Meeting your new mentor for the first time can be fun, exciting, and a little daunting. You might have dozens of questions you’d like to ask or a long list of goals you’d like to accomplish. However, the most important thing you need to establish first is your mentorship’s ground rules. Without them, you and your mentor won’t have the direction and guidelines needed in order to have a successful discussion. For example, what are the best ways to get in touch with each other? How will you measure progress and setbacks? What do you ultimately want to get out of having a mentor? Before developing your ideas, questions, and goals, start off your mentorship strong by setting ground rules first.
Expectations and Boundaries
First and foremost, set some expectations as to what your mentorship will be about. Are you looking for advice on how to improve your hard skills, soft skills, or a bit of both? Is your mentor going to offer specific advice, general guidance, personal anecdotes, or all of the above? You should also establish boundaries that both parties can agree to, such as conflicts of interest or topics you’d like to avoid. Lastly, you should set some parameters in terms of privacy and confidentiality. Whether your mentorship is about academic development, professional development, or personal development, your discussions should stay between you and your mentor.
Discussions and Communication
Next, establish some ground rules as to when, where, and how often you meet. To start, is this a one-time discussion, or are you looking to meet up regularly? Are you meeting in person or online? Lastly, how long will each of your discussions last? Will your conversations go at a natural pace, or do you prefer to set an agenda beforehand? You should also set some rules as to your methods of communication. For example, while your mentor might prefer talking on the phone, you might prefer sending emails. Don’t forget to ask your mentor whether you can get in touch with them outside of meetings. They may be open to answering a quick question or two before your next discussion.
Feedback and Evaluation
One of the most important aspects of mentorship is feedback and constructive criticism. In order to make your mentorship meaningful, you and your mentor should establish how and how often to measure your success. For example, are you measuring your success by improved grades or a strong job evaluation? Do you want your mentor to check your progress in intervals or provide feedback as ongoing commentary? It also helps to set some ground rules about how to evaluate the mentorship itself. If you feel dissatisfied in any way, both parties should be comfortable with having an open and honest discussion about what’s working and what isn’t.
Issues and Conflict
While you may not want to think about it, the potential for conflict between you and your mentor is entirely possible. For example, you might disagree on what approach to take or which goals to set, creating tension in your relationship. This can lead to further misunderstandings and frustrations that hinder instead of help. Both parties should work together to establish ways to address these issues respectfully and meaningfully without making them personal. If you eventually start to feel like the mentorship just isn’t working, you and your mentor should be open to talking about how to end things on good terms.