Legal job posts a lot about the role of a mentor and a sponsor (which often are two different people) and the importance of securing one as a junior law firm associate. This post focuses on the mentee because securing a quality mentor is only half of the equation. There are certain things a mentee can do (and know) to enhance the value of the relationship (for both parties).
Below are five things a mentee can do to make the most out of his or her mentor relationship:
1. Make the relationship a legitimate, two -way exchange of give and take.
This item is discussed in Making Partner and is most important. Your mentor has to see the value in serving in that role for you. How will you provide value to the mentor so that he or she will want to be your mentor? Perhaps you will do excellent work for them as their associate. Or you can think of useful business development idea for their practice and further, help your prospective mentor implement the idea. Or maybe you have a business contact or friend of a friend that can help your prospective mentor in some way. Maybe you have a helpful contact that can help your prospective mentor personally, i.e., tickets to a special sporting event, something for her husband or his wife or kids.
2. Consider who would be an optimal mentor based on what you would most like to receive from them.
Would it be helpful to have someone who has take the same career path you would like to follow? Would it be helpful to have someone who has certain skills you wish to develop? Would it be helpful to have someone that has a different type of personality than you? You may find that your "perfect" candidate does not exist such that it may be helpful for you to have several mentors for different purposes. The obvious case is where one person serves as a mentor issues relating to learning the substantive area of the law and another person serves as a sponsor such that he or she is advocate for you within the firm and counsels you about how to continue to advance.
3. Be prepared.
Show your mentor you respect his time and resources by coming to your meetings prepared with a clear idea of what issues you want to address. Also, try not to accomplish too much in any one meeting. Let the mentor's nuggets sink in a bit before you launch into additional questions and stories. And try to keep the meetings under one hour even if the mentor shows no sign of impatience.
4. Be open to honest feedback.
Seek opinions, feedback, and direction from your mentor and listen carefully. This is a learning opportunity and not a time to become defensive or to rebut the comments. You want to encourage honesty and directness. You can take what you like and discard what does not resonate with you but your mentor does not need to know what you agree and disagree with.
5. Be clear on the feedback.
In order to come up with strategies and next steps, you have to understand the feedback given. Paraphrase and repeat back comments to confirm your understanding. Try saying statements such as "what I am hearing you saying is that when I... or if I..."
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