Mentoring currently is very popular topic. It is kind of cool to have a personal Yoda or Fairly Godmother. I have been involved in for some time already and in this article I will describe some of my experience.
My Mentoring Stories
Story #1: In 2015 I applied for Speak Easy mentorship. I had the great mentor, who helped me to overcome my fears. Soon after I delivered my first talk, I started to look for a mentor for other issues I was dealing with, and proved old saying: “When the student is ready, the master will appear.”
Story #2: End of June, 2017 was finishing line for MINT mentoring program for women in Fachhochschule Erfurt, Germany. 11 mentoring pairs was built with the aim to help senior students to prepare for academic or work life. I was one of the mentors and had the privilege to share my experience with an amazing young woman. I still have contact to my mentee. In between time, she had a baby, finished her master studies and on January 2, 2019 she started to work as assistant of software project manager and will support a huge digital transformation project.
Story #3: Since few years I am also supporting Speak Easy initiative. I started as one of volunteers, who read submissions of mentees and try to match with a perfect mentor. Since September 2018 I am one of leadership team, and I describe my position as professional matchmaker. I am overwhelmed how many great people we have in tech and software testing in particular, who invest their free time and energy to help other to succeed. I am happy to be part of it.
Story #4: For two years I had very good colleague, with whom I shared an office. We talked a lot about testing topics, new ideas, better approaches. Only after I left the company I realised that we both were each others mentors. Each of us had area of expertise and helped the other one to learn it. Now since we do not work together anymore, we keep seeing and mentoring each other.
How to start?
My experience as mentee, helped me in my role as mentor. Big part of people, who look for a mentor, have already made their decisions and need just confirmation for their idea. Another part are people who do not know what they want, never thought about personal development or setting a goal and working towards it. Based on stories above, here is my guideline how to look for a mentor.
Step 1: Set a goal
First thing is to understand what is your goal and for what do you need a help. For example, you want to become a conference speaker or you want to learn about test automation. Why? Why it is important to you? Why do you want to invest your time and energy in it? And then: who/what is standing in your way? Fear? Missing skills of writing a proposal? Ugly slide deck? Defining learning goals for attendees? Decide what to automate and what not? How to create automation framework? How to imbed your script in CI tool? In the moment when your goal is clear, and all why? and who? answered, you will get an idea what kind of help do you need.
Please never approach potential mentor with vague questions like:
- what should be my next career move?
- should I learn to code?
- I heard Selenium skills can bring me a better job, how can I learn Selenium?
Make yourself worth mentoring – do your homework and be prepared. You also could be interested to look into personal development.
Step 2: expectations from a mentor
A mentor is someone who acts as a trusted advisor, a role model, and a friend. In mentorship relationship no money is involved. Can you imagine to offer so personal role to a stranger? Would you like to be a mentored by complete stranger? It could be that a stranger can tell mentee what everyone sees, but friends or colleagues are afraid to tell. Would you better listen to critic from a stranger or a friend? Are you open to critic or are you interested only in cheerleading? Will it help you to reach your goal? In my understanding, a great mentor does not give answers but leads toward the answer. Mentee’s answer, not the mentor’s answer.
Consider your personality and communication style as well. What kind of mentor would best fit to you? Would you choose someone who is your opposite (experience-wise or an extrovert to your introvert), or someone in whom you see yourself? I tried both and for me the best works the opposite.
Another important issue – how and when will you meet. Online or offline? If online, then video, audio or exchanging ideas via email? Are you expecting your mentor to have time for you on the weekend, after work or during lunch break? Once a week or a month? All this you have to consider before you approach mentor, does not matter if it is arrange mentor or somebody who you approach.
Remember – you will be doing all the job. You set your goal, you work towards your goal. Mentor is just supporting and gently guiding you.
Step 3: introduce yourself
For example, you have chosen publicly known person to be your mentor, because she/he is so amazing speaker, writer, teacher and blogger, but you never actually met her/him. One way would be to approach directly and ask the person to be your mentor. There is a chance that you will get “yes”, but much nicer way would be to start a conversation, get to know each other little bit and ask their thoughts on a topic of your interest. It can happen that you realise that public person and private person are different, that you do not share same values or professional interest. Then it is time to look for another potential mentor. Or maybe you do share similar mindset, in that case it will be easier to ask to mentor you.
Mentoring is a relationship. Let it evolve organically.
You ask someone to be your mentor and that person refused it, don’t be hurt or offended. This is not against you! Mentoring is personal, can be very time and energy consuming. It could be that your mentor is currently very busy. Do not force potential mentor into an awkward position in which she/he feels bad for saying “no” or obligated to say “yes.”
I loved Lanette’s talk where she suggests testers to be more like a cat. One example was: if cat got trowed out of the lap, it will go and look for another lap, instead of whining about missed chance to be pat.
Step 4: Commit to the process
If you promised something to do, do it. Never ever leave email or phone call from your mentor without reply for several days. Never ever miss the appointment with your mentor. You asked somebody to invest their time and energy, do not waste it! Good mentors do not accept such behaviour.
Have something to offer back
Make sure that your mentor knows how grateful you are for their time, and see if you can offer them something in return. May be you can give feedback on their blog posts, articles or offer to promote their new book or workshop.
The mentoring relationship must have value for both parties, only then it will be successful in long term.
I hope these 4 steps will help you to build successful mentorships and to reach your full potential!