It’s hard being a mentee

It’s hard being a mentee. So many dos and don’ts.

Be focused. Don’t ask questions you are not interested in the answers to. Show gratitude. Make it a two-way exchange. Ugh! One of my mentee’s put it best -- “If I had my sh*t together and was focused, I wouldn’t need a mentor in the first place.”

So, what is the secret to maximizing ones “menteeing” efforts? We asked this question to a handful of successful law students and law firm associates whose mentoring relationship translated to helpful insight, strategy, and guidance that enabled them to accelerate their career path. Not surprisingly, they had different thoughts on what works best but all had in common three principles:

  1. They were bold with their selection.
  2. They were willing to disregard everything they learned.
  3. They were clear on their preferred outcome.


They were bold in one of the following three ways:

  1. They went outside of the law altogether. This additional perspective helped them think like (and understand the challenges and goals of) employers, clients, partners, and law firm managers. They picked successful entrepreneurs, seasoned professionals from the sales and marketing world, executives at Fortune 500 companies, including technology companies, healthcare companies, and advertising agencies, seasoned assistants of State and Federal legislators, top-level people at Federal agencies, and leaders in the journalism, radio, and television industries.
  2. They turned lemons into lemonade. They picked mentors that had provided them some negative feedback in the past. And, in some cases, the feedback was not very constructive. That feedback ran the gamut from mild criticism or disagreement with an idea or a conclusion all the way to being given poor grades or negative annual evaluations.
  3. They shot for the stars. They went for it. Leading lawyers (not necessarily at their firm), CEOs, heads of Federal agencies, heads of public relations firms, and leaders in the non-profit world. In each case, they had some tenuous connection to the people and turned that thread into a successful mentoring relationship. They all reasoned that the worst that could happen is that the stars say no or do not respond.


Each of the mentees had the same message. They were flexible. They went in with an open mind. They were willing to think about things differently. They recognized that thinking like a lawyer is not necessarily helpful in every situation. They were willing to be wrong. They were willing to say “I don’t know,” or “I hadn’t considered that.” They were willing to be coached.


Each of the mentees did not know what to expect from the relationship but they were clear on at least one specific and tangible goal they wanted help achieving. The law students had identified their dream job but needed insight, and support to create a clear plan for securing the job and to proficiently execute the plan. The law associates were considered rising stars at their firms but needed guidance and strategy to move up to levels of performance and client service faster than they might without the mentoring help.

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