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How to be an effective mentee

Mentee Workshop Summary

On Thursday 24th March mentees from the WFA Mentorship Programme supported by Alltech joined an online session to explore how to be an effective mentee and ensure that they are getting the most out of their partnerships. The mentees shared thoughts on the questions they should be asking their mentors, ways to establish goals for what they want to achieve in the partnership and how they can offer support and learning experiences to their mentors. To begin, we tasked each of the mentees with discussing three questions in smaller groups of four to five other mentees with various areas of expertise. Each breakout discussion lasted ten minutes and then the mentees were brought back to the main session where one person from each group shared what they discussed to the rest of the mentees. Below is some feedback from the three questions they discussed:

1) What are the top characteristics of a good mentee?

For this question, the mentees shared a range of personal attributes and qualities that they felt contributes to a good mentee. These include being proactive in sharing their goals, brave in tackling challenges head on, honest about their fears, curious to learn and a great communication skills. To get the most out of the partnership, it is beneficial for mentees to be fully invested in the program, by continually sharing their thoughts and experiences to allow the mentor to understand what they are trying to achieve and how to help them get to where they want to be. By being open and curious, mentees can maintain a healthy dialogue with their mentor and effectively build their relationship.

One mentee shared that another key characteristic is a willingness to receive feedback, learn from it and apply it in the future. It is important to acknowledge that partnership is a two-way interaction and mentors are there to coach their mentees through challenges they are facing. This may involve giving negative feedback that can be critical to the personal development and career growth of their mentee. For the partnership to work, the relationship must feel like a collaborative effort, where the mentee is accustomed to receiving feedback and communicating how they would best like to receive feedback from their mentor.

2) What are the things you should be sharing with your mentor in the early sessions?

For this part of the session, the mentees shared a range of questions that could help to build a meaningful relationship with their mentor. These questions should reflect career aspirations, personal development goals and how you would like the partnership to progress. It is important for mentees to make their career aspirations and personal development goals known to their mentors early on by asking questions like, ‘I would like to work towards a promotion. Can you help me with this?’ Or ‘I would like to improve my confidence. Can we prioritise this in our meetings?’ These questions will help the mentor to better understand what the mentees long-term goals are, so that they can structure the meetings around these ambitions and set tasks for the mentees if needed. While asking questions that establish the mentee’s long-term goals is important, it is also beneficial to ask questions that help the mentor to understand how to manage the relationship and communicate with the mentee in a way that works for them.

This can include questions like:

  • ‘Can you share your career journey with me?’
  • ‘Are you comfortable with keeping what’s discussed in our meetings confidential?’
  • ‘Do you have any personal stories of overcoming challenges in your area of work?’
  • ‘Why did you sign up to the program and how can I offer support to you as well?’
  • ‘What is the best means of communication for you and how often would you like this to be?’
  • ‘Can I share with you how I like to receive feedback?’

Collectively, these questions help to establish a common ground and the base for a meaningful partnership. When it comes to communication, some of our pairings meet in person and some communicate virtually via whatsapp and email – it is important to pin down what will work for you as a pairing. It is also crucial to discuss confidentiality in your early sessions by letting your mentor know whether you’re comfortable with them taking notes in the meeting, to build trust within the partnership.

We suggest having a 30-minute to 1 hour meeting with your mentor once a month. We also advise that the mentor and mentee agree on a frequency that works best for them, although this could change if the mentee requires more or less support during a particular time period.

3) What can mentees offer their mentors? 

For this question, one mentor raised a very valuable point about how generational differences can offer a fresh perspective to the partnership and why it’s vital to embrace the differences in age and levels of expertise between a mentor and mentee. A common misconception in mentorship is that a mentor has more to offer a mentee in the partnership. While the mentor is there to help the mentee through their challenges, a mentee has much to offer their mentor too. We encourage our mentees to embrace their differences and remember the important role that reverse mentorship can play in a partnership. Reverse mentoring is where a less experienced person provides support to a more senior stakeholder. WFA have seen this actioned within the mentorship pairings in the past with the mentees successfully teaching mentors new skills.

It is also important to remember that mentees can help can their mentors to get what they need out of the program too. The mentors signed up to participate in the program for a reason and by understanding why, a mentee can also support their goals. This can include wanting to support women in the industry or improving their management, leadership and confidence skills, so just by taking part in meetings and engaging you are providing your mentor with something of value.

One mentee commented that open communication can be beneficial in this instance and this can be achieved by letting the mentor know how they partnership is going even if they forget to ask for positive or negative feedback. This lets the mentor know what they are doing well and what they can do better to help the mentee with achieving their goals.

Maintaining openness and honesty throughout opens the door to a partnership that could last even beyond the duration of the program. We believe that mentorship should be an ongoing relationship, therefore we encourage both mentors and mentees to continue offering each other support even after the year comes to an end. The relationship does not have to end after these goals have been achieved if both parties find value in the partnership and we hope some of these connections will last a lifetime.

A special thank you to all of the mentees who took part in this session and were so open and honest. If you have any questions about scheme or require support you can email Ollie at olympia.theocharous@agribriefing.com or Melissa at Melissa.huizer@agribriefing.com

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