What is Mentorship and How Does it Work?

January 14, 2020

Many of us have heard the term “mentorship” all our lives.

We’re presented with the term in high school, encouraged to seek it out in college, and expected to have it early in our careers and onwards. The idea of mentorship follows us through our lives, but what does it actually mean? Why is it so important for personal and professional development?

What is Mentorship?

Mentorship is the practice of sharing knowledge and past experience to help others navigate their lives and careers. Mentors help others by sharing their experiences, providing guidance, motivation, emotional support and role modeling. A mentee, with guidance from mentors, has the opportunity to explore her career options, sets goals, and develop contacts. Mentorship is important, especially for women. Good mentorship relationships change the way women see their potential: they are encouraged to shoot for the moon knowing they have support the whole way there.

How do you actually find mentorship relationships?

Unfortunately, finding a mentor or mentee is difficult. It takes work and commitment to find someone you connect with both on a personal and a professional level. There are many different ways to connect with potential mentors: HR at work, professional organizations in your community, and looking to the people already in your life.

Regardless of how you find your mentor or mentee, the qualities that you're looking for will remain the same.

For those looking for a mentor:

  • Look for people who truly listen to you: mentorship is only successful if the information is tailored to you and what you are looking for in terms of your own growth. The role of mentor is to advise a mentee on the best course of action; having a mentor who listens to you and has experienced similar situations increases her ability to give applicable advice.
  • Tell them why you want her to be your mentor—what aspects of her life, her career, or her personality drew you to her?

And don't worry if your mentor doesn't necessarily fit the mold of a "mentor". We traditionally think of mentors as older and wiser, someone we see in a position above ourselves. That's not always the case! Everyone has experience we can learn from: whether they're a senior project manager or the newest intern at the company, everyone's experience is valuable. Anybody can be your mentor as long as you think they will help you progress in your goals.

For those looking for a mentee:

  • Look for people who care about your lived experience, your career path, or just a genuine desire to learn and grow—they are the ones who will take your advice to heart.
  • Keep an open mind to new experiences and people, and
  • Be generous with your wisdom.

Look for the women who remind you of you. There are women in your communities who already look to you as a mentor, seek them out and empower them for greatness.

How do you build a strong relationship?

Like all other relationships, you build a positive and successful mentorship relationship on trust, honesty, and best intentions.

As a mentor...

invest in your mentee. Actively listen to her, engage in her ideas, and give her applicable advice. She trusts you to care about her and guide her with your experiences. Because of your experience, you've made it just a bit easier for future women to get to where you are.

As a mentee...

care about your mentor’s previous experience and take her advice it to heart. Learn everything you can from your mentors to help you move forward—very few people actually “make it” on their own. Once you make it and achieve your goals, its your turn to mentor the others who want to follow your path.

While there is no "right" way for mentorship relationships to take form, there are a few types you can use. They can be formal (you ask to be a mentor/to be mentored), informal (evolves naturally with someone in your life), a one-off meeting, or a lifetime relationship. The best way to build that authentic relationship is to maintain open communication about your needs and your wants from the other, and assess that the relationship is helping you move forward through your career goals.

No two mentoring relationships look the same,

but they all share the same goal: mentors use their lived experiences in their personal and professional lives to help guide other women to see and achieve their potential.

While you already have a support system in your life in your family and friends, mentors provide a different sort of support. A mentor is someone who not only gives you general support, but also gives you the resources you need to get it done.

“I never miss an opportunity to meet someone new—if she’s smarter, more successful, or richer than I am, you can bet I won’t miss that chance to ask her how she got there. I always have time to learn something new.”

More Awesome Resources on Mentorship:

TED & Allergan "The Power of Female Mentorship" (TEDWomen 2016)
The 5 Types of Mentors You Need in Your Life
Lean In - Mentorship Matters

Leave a comment below to tell us about your experience with mentorship!