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Jenny Levine (staff)'s picture

Mentoring Starter Questions

How do we get going?

There is no set way for mentoring relationships to get started. However, it’s very important for both the mentor and mentee to remember that the work needs to focus on the needs of the mentee. Subjects for early conversations should include: goals and aspirations of the mentee, frequency of contact desired, preferred learning styles, communication preferences, and sharing of information about the mentor’s and mentee’s backgrounds.

If you’re a mentor, you might open the conversation by asking the mentee one of the following questions:

  1. What are three things you would like to accomplish through mentoring?
  2. How do you like to learn?
  3. When it comes to communication that does not take place in person, how do you prefer communicating?
  4. How much time would you like us to spend working together? Weekly? Bi-weekly? Monthly?
  5. Are there very specific goals you have in mind that you would like to accomplish?

Things to be careful of:

While most mentoring relationships are very successful, the ones that fail usually do so due to one of the following issues:

  1. Lack of contact between mentor and mentee – if there is no contact there is no mentoring.
  2. Lack of focus on the needs of the mentee – even if you are having a good time you might not be focusing on the needs of the mentee.
  3. Loss of trust – mentoring is a relationship that requires trust, because so much of personal importance is shared by the mentee. If the mentor betrays any confidentialities the relationship will begin to falter.

Some arenas where mentoring is useful:

  • Career development and planning
  • Leadership development
  • Developing a broader understanding of organizations
  • Developing political skills and awareness

Final words of wisdom to both mentee and mentor:

For the mentee: Take this opportunity seriously and spend some reflective time considering what your greatest needs are. Understand the gift of time that your mentor is giving you and respect it. You might develop a statement of purpose for the mentoring relationship just to have a clearer sense of your intention.

For the mentor: The mentoring relationship is more about guiding and helping than about telling the mentee what you would do. It is about the mentee’s goals and needs. Spend a lot of time listening and think about how you might best help your mentee. Sometimes it might be providing the mentee with a reading suggestion to stimulate their thinking or crystallize their thinking on an issue; sometimes it might be providing the mentee with a connection to someone else in the field; and yet other times it might be a conversation that helps the mentee understand their own thinking better.