On Mentorship: How to Respond to a Prospective Mentee

Mentors are expected to provide guidance, advice, feedback and general support for their mentees. They should be able to look at situations from different perspectives and share other points of view, while providing transparent counsel and constructive criticism for the mentee. The two parties within a mentorship should not, however, be mirror images of each other. Put simply: You cannot learn or grow from a “hype person.”

How to Respond to a Prospective Mentee

If a prospective mentee approaches you, whether on LinkedIn, email, through a professional event or otherwise, do a bit of research of your own before responding. See what type of industry they are in, if you have any mutual connections or if you share similar experiences. Perhaps you both interned for the same company, or perhaps you both belong to the same professional organization. Knowing their background and your own can help shape your conversation.

After you do research on the prospective mentee, consider posing some of the following questions to help gauge whether it’s the right fit for a mentorship:

  • What do you think I can do for you? Perhaps they are just looking for one-off resume proofing or a connection to a firm you used to work at. Whatever the ask may be, it’s important to get on the same page.
  • What led you to your current career path? Did you plan this path or did it happen organically? Try to really understand how things are for them and where they wish to be.
  • Why are you interested in me as a mentor? What led you here? This will help gauge how you can specifically help them.
  • What interested you about having a mentor?
  • Besides your career, what else is important to you? This is a way to get to know your mentee on a deeper level. Of course this is a professional relationship, but deep connections are built upon mutual trust and shared information.
  • What inspires you?
  • What are your short-term goals and how can I help you achieve them?
  • What about your long-term goals? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
  • What areas of your life do you want to grow in? This will help you understand how you can approach the mentee/mentor relationship holistically.
  • What are your professional strengths and weaknesses?
  • How do you typically mitigate your weaknesses?
  • How would you like to receive feedback? Some mentees prefer in-person feedback, others may be happy with a written email. Not everyone will want feedback the same way.
  • How can I best support you in your goals?

As a mentor, your job is to guide, not handhold. It’s your job to create a safe space for your mentee to be able to feel comfortable with sharing their career and personal goals. The above considerations will help you engage with the prospective mentee and determine whether it’s a potential match.

Building Your Relationship

Mentorship, like any relationship, is a two-way street. A mentee can learn from you just as much as you can learn from them. Keep communication open, frequent and honest.

Any good relationship takes time and effort from both parties. It’s important to self-reflect, set expectations, build trust and move forward.

Kaitlynn Cooney is Account Director at Brodeur Partners.