Every participant in a mentoring relationship has a distinct role and part to play. For mentors, one can apply a handful of different adjectives, such as “guide”, “teacher,” or “coach”. But what does “mentee” mean? What is the role of the mentee in the relationship, and what are the mentees’ responsibilities once entering into that relationship? Because this isn’t always a clear-cut answer, this guide will help you better understand what it means for someone to be a mentee, the qualities of a good mentee, and how to find success within a mentoring relationship.
What is a mentee?
In simple terms, a mentee is the one who is being mentored in a mentor-mentee relationship. When mentoring occurs within a workplace or organization, a mentee tends to be someone in a more junior-level position.
Take note of those qualifying phrases: “tend to be” and “more junior-level”. The use of both is intentional because modern mentoring relationships are significantly more dynamic than what you’ll find in the traditional approach.
Mentees can be:
- Older than their mentor
- Have more tenure than their mentor
- Serve in a more senior-level position than their mentor
- Be at the same seniority level and have the same tenure as their mentor
Many organizations still offer mentoring relationships where the mentee’s role fits neatly within the traditional definition. However, companies are also learning that most employees bring valuable knowledge and skills to the table, regardless of their tenure and seniority.
This has given rise to fairly interesting types of mentoring programs and mentoring relationships, such as reverse mentoring, mentoring groups, and mentoring circles.
In any mentoring relationship, regardless of the dynamic, the mentor uses their knowledge and experience to educate and offer guidance to the mentee so they can get the support they need in their career path or personal endeavors.
Aside from experience, the mentor also possesses the skills, experience, or insights that the mentee wants to learn and develop over time. In this case, mentees are learners and students — but only to a certain point. Because mentoring is ideally very mentee-driven, it’s a different dynamic than what you find within a teacher-student dynamic.
Good Mentee Qualities to Have or Develop
A good mentee must possess the characteristics and qualities that enable them to enjoy the full benefits of a mentor program.
Openness to learning
To become a good mentee, you must be open to learning new things. You should take advantage of any learning opportunities and be open to new possibilities. You have to look at the lesson that you stand to learn with each situation.
Ideally, this means mentees should ask questions (and lots of them) and then take feedback and critique in seriously.
Respect for authority
A mentor is like a teacher (but again, they’re not the same thing). They conduct themselves like a professional and are committed to sharing their wisdom and knowledge with the mentee. Therefore, you have to be respectful of the mentor giving you their time to help achieve your goals.
What does respect for your mentor look like?
- Accepting feedback graciously and proactively
- Coming to meetings on time
- Coming to meetings organized and ready
- Engaging in the conversation (and often leading the conversation)
- Being vulnerable
Remember, your mentor usually doesn’t have to be there. In most cases, mentoring is voluntary; those who mentor tend to enjoy doing it because they, themselves, once had a mentor that impacted their life. They want to give back. But like their mentees, they’re taking time out of their busy schedules. Respect that time by being a fully-present and fully-engaged mentee.
The best mentees are the ones that exhibit leadership potential, or at least, the ability to plan, strategize, and self-advocate. Leadership skills are something that you aren’t always born with, but they are something that you can develop over time. The more knowledge and experience you can get, the better you are at taking on leadership roles in the future.
We know what you’re thinking here, and you’re right. If you’re in a mentoring relationship to help develop leadership skills, you probably aren’t going to have them going in. And that’s ok. A lack of leadership skills doesn’t mean you’re a bad mentee. It just means you have something to work on, just like everyone else.
Good time management skills can help you become a good mentee. Your ability to maximize your use of time to make something productive out of it can help you excel in business or improve your lifestyle.
Hint: Showing up on time is one of the most important time management skills you can express.
A positive attitude can go a long way if you are a mentee seeking to use the advice of your mentor to become a better person or professional. Keep in mind that your emotions and attitude project outwardly. That project will impact your relationships with others.
Did you know: Effective matching can dramatically increase the success of the relationship? With matching software, mentees and mentors can be matched on personality, leading to a relationship that fits like a glove — no attitude adjustment needed!
A negative attitude will set the stage for negative interactions with your mentee. Ultimately, the mentoring relationship may be combative and won’t bear fruit. Even if the matching is done correctly, your attitude can make or break the success of those engagements.
Successful mentees are the ones who are able to give their full commitment toward the progress of their mentorship. This process can take a long time before you can see any progress. Therefore, a mentee must be committed from the beginning to the end to ensure that you can see results over time.
If needed, ask your mentor to help you develop a learning plan. Or, speak with your company or organization to see if structured mentoring programs already exist, or find out how you can start one.
As a mentee, you must learn how to communicate with your mentor. Good communication is transparent, honest, and timely. You should also be open to receiving feedback from your mentor, whether it be positive or negative.
What you do with that feedback is important, and we’ve already covered that much. But communication is more than just a back-and-forth. The way you listen and respond will indicate whether you’re a good or bad communicator.
How to Be a Good Mentee in a Mentoring Relationship
Finding great mentors within a mentoring program is only half the formula for success. Your mentors can’t carry the whole relationship on their shoulders. Although most mentors report also benefiting from mentoring relationships, they aren’t the target population.
To be an effective and good mentee, you’ll need to approach the relationship with a strong sense of personal responsibility.
The following are tips to become the best mentee that you can be and benefit from your mentors:
- Establish your goals. This way, you will know what you want to achieve with the help of your mentor or mentors.
- Be responsible for your own learning. Mentors are supposed to guide you but they cannot do the work for you.
- Respect your mentor’s time. You must keep in mind that they are volunteering their time, knowledge, and service to you. Honor and respect that.
- Come to each session with an agenda. This will ensure a smooth flow of your meeting and save you valuable time, as well as that of your mentors.
- Ask questions. The more mentor questions you ask, the better so you can maximize your learning.
- Ask for feedback. Get your mentors to give you feedback so you know what else you need to improve on.
Mentoring relationships that work are almost never 50-50. They aren’t supposed to be. Much as the teacher-student relationship leans more heavily on the teacher providing effective instruction, the mentor-mentee relationship is weighted toward the input of the mentee.
All told, as a mentee, you only get results when you put in the work. Your mentor’s knowledge and experience are there to help you grow and learn, but unless you’re in a mentoring relationship that’s dictated by a strict curriculum (and some are!), your end results will be better when you’re clearly expressing your needs and following through on your mentor’s advice.
Upskill Your Mentee Definition
With upskilling and reskilling in high demand, mentoring has quickly become a critical strategy for businesses. Companies that offer mentoring programs are better set up for success, while those without mentoring are either not capturing their employees’ needs, or are lacking visibility into what mentoring is and can do for their organization.
Need to get mentoring off the ground? Executive leaders are often the biggest roadblock to launching programs. Here’s a video on how to navigate the internal selling process.
If mentoring available at your organization? Are you actively seeking out mentoring relationships that can make a difference in your career? If not, it may be time to get the ball rolling and work with HR to launch mentoring at your company. Your career (and everyone else’s, for that matter) will thank you later.