The correlation between mentorship and career success is crystal clear: having access to a mentor can make all the difference in a person's professional journey.
A recent mentoring statistic shows mentees with access to mentors are five times more likely to be promoted than those not in a mentoring program. An average of 25% of mentees who take part in a mentoring program see their salary grade change, compared to 5% of those who do not.
That's not all. A study conducted at the Malawi Ministry of Health saw a significant competency boost score of over 300% (32 to 97) for five nurses who underwent 1 week of group mentoring training.
Seeing the awesome results of mentorship, as a mentee, you're probably wondering how to get similar results. What should you ask your mentor that will help you get there?
Let's pause for a moment:
- If you're a mentee, the below questions are a great starting point. But you'll also want to agree on expectations for the relationship as well. Pair this resource with our article on roles and healthy expectations for mentoring relationships.
- Alternatively, If you're planning a mentoring program and are building a bank of questions for mentors and mentees, check out our resource on mentoring session agendas. You'll find even more questions, activities, and templates for mentoring meetings.
Now back to the topic at hand— questions to ask your mentor. Ready to take your mentoring relationship to the next level? Let's dive in!
4 Tips to help you prepare for a mentor meeting
Whether this is your first mentorship meeting or you already have an established relationship, you should prepare in advance by sharing a meeting agenda to demonstrate that you care and not waste your or your mentor's time.
Don't know where to start? Here are some tips 👇🏻
Do your research
Similar to how you'd go into a networking meeting or a job interview, it's crucial to look into your mentor's background before you meet. Check out their LinkedIn profile to get a sense of their career path, and give them a Google search to see what kind of cool stuff they've been up to.
The reason it's important to do research on your mentor beforehand is two-fold. Firstly, it'll give you insight into their specific experience, allowing you to gain a deeper understanding of what information they can provide that will be specifically beneficial to you. Secondly, it demonstrates your commitment to the relationship and shows that you value your mentor's time.
Establish your goals
What skills do you want to develop? Where do you see yourself in three years? Do you want to expand your network? These are some of the questions you can ask yourself as you start to think about the objective of mentorship for you.
Most mentees will approach a mentoring relationship with a general idea of what they want to learn — otherwise known as starter goals. That's okay before your first meeting. But, if your goals are too broad, you're less likely to be satisfied with the relationship and its outcomes.
That's why it's important that you ultimately develop more concrete SMART goals — specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. You and your mentor can decide to develop SMART goals together.
Some goal examples could include:
- Do 5 informational interviews with people in X industry by X date.
- Read X book by the next meeting to discuss key takeaways on X topic
- Update and finalize my resume by X date
- Raise my hand for a new project at work that involves X skill I want to develop by X date
Check your ego
Most of us are used to getting constructive criticism from our direct managers or peers, but a mentor brings another, perhaps more objective, perspective to help us brush up on relevant skills. Having the opportunity to receive feedback from a mentor outside of your work team is an amazing way to gain a deeper understanding of your blind spots and how to improve.
So don't get defensive about it. Be prepared to accept your mentor's constructive feedback with open arms — how else will you grow?
Hold yourself accountable
It's essential to set clear expectations for yourself regarding check-ins and goal achievement at the onset of the relationship.
By holding yourself accountable, you're more likely to stay on track and maximize your time with your mentor. Have a reminder system — like calendar notifications or monthly goal reviews — that alerts you of what needs to be accomplished. That way, you and your mentor will always know what tasks you're working on and when.
5 tips on how to ask your mentor the right questions
Mentors have expectations from their mentees, and part of that is the ability of the mentees to always come prepared and have clear ideas of questions they'd like to be answered.
This makes every session stimulating and removes the burden of the mentor running the entire session. Below are five tips for asking good questions that lead to growth, not just chit-chat.
Ask clear, specific questions
The mentor may have a plethora of knowledge and experience, but if your questions are vague or too broad, the answers may not be helpful.
Clear and specific questions allow for a more productive and focused discussion — and it enables mentors to understand your needs and be better equipped to provide you with valuable insights.
Don't force a conversation, and avoid asking rhetorical questions
Instead of forcing a conversation, strive to be a good listener and ask open-ended questions. This is the core of a successful development conversation.
Refrain from posing questions for which you already know the answer when seeking a mentor's advice. Instead, try to have an open and sincere dialogue with your mentor while asking questions that promote knowledge transfer.
Ask questions about key areas you want to grow
It's crucial to ask questions that focus on the key areas you want to grow in.
Ask your mentors about their experiences, successes and failures, and the lessons they have learned along the way. With this knowledge, you'll be well-equipped to embark on your journey.
Adequate preparation is the key to a successful relationship. A prepared mentee goes into every mentoring session with a list of questions to ask, plans of action to discuss, and a notepad.
By being prepared, you're showing your mentor that you value their time and dedication. And it also enables you to be ready to receive the full measure of your mentor's insight.
Use questions as a guide to action
While asking relevant questions is great, using them as a guide for action is even better. As a mentee, you must not only ask questions but use them as a guide for action. Take the insights you have gained and apply them to your life and work.
Seek opportunities to put what your mentor taught you into practice. Even better, when you do apply what you learn from your mentor, share with them the results.
Now let’s look at the concrete questions you should ask!
30 questions to ask your mentor
What are the best questions to ask a mentor? The truth? It isn't set in stone. Every mentor/mentee relationship is different, so I advise not taking a cookie-cutter approach. Rather, prepare questions that feel right for you and that you think will help build a successful mentoring relationship.
To help you get started, we've put together a list of 30 ideas and conversation topics for inspiration.
Casual questions (without getting too personal)
While you need to prepare for your mentorship meeting, you don't need to rehearse. Remember that ideally, your partnership is an authentic relationship and, therefore, should be nurtured like one. In fact, according to Anthony K. Tjan, your relationship should come before your mentorship.
Sometimes, mentorship can turn into more of a transaction than a real relationship. But if you're merely checking a box, the mentorship won't be successful. So start by getting to know your mentor better and showing an interest in them as a person.
- How are you feeling?
- What are you excited about right now?
- What's new since we last spoke?
- How are you staying motivated?
- What's a goal you're currently working towards?
- What's going on outside of work in your life?
Set expectations for the mentor relationship
Off the bat, it's a great idea to get on the same page about your and your mentor's goals and how you're going to achieve them together. These are especially important questions to ask in your first mentorship meeting, but they are also great to continuously check in and realign.
- Why did you decide to be a mentor?
- What are your goals for the relationship?
- I'm keen to get your input on my goals for this mentorship. Can we review them together?
- How often do you want to meet?
- What's your preferred method of communication?
- How can I better prepare for our meetings?
Ask about their professional experience
Learning more about your mentor's specific experiences, the challenges they've overcome, how they arrived where they are today, and how they continue to succeed is invaluable. Take the time to discuss your mentor's career, both past and present. This is where all that research you did will really come in handy!
- Why did you decide to go into this field?
- How did you move into the X role?
- What were some challenges you faced in the X position?
- What skills have been most beneficial for you?
- How do you achieve work/life balance?
- Do you have any networking advice?
- Are there any networking groups you think I should join?
- Did you get impostor syndrome? How did you learn to get over it?
Seek advice on specific situations
Your mentor likely has a plethora of experience they can draw on to help guide you through your current challenges. If you're having trouble navigating a specific situation, your mentor has probably been there before — or at least somewhere similar. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
- Do you have any advice on how I can approach discussions about a promotion?
- I feel like I'm being pigeonholed at work right now and would like to try some new things. In your experience, what's the best way to approach this?
- If you were me, how would you have approached X's situation?
- Do you think I should accept this new job offer?
- My salary isn't in line with what my peers are making. How do I ask for more?
Questions about how you can improve
Your mentor can provide a more objective lens on areas you can improve to help you succeed. Check your ego at the door. The more open you are to feedback, the more valuable guidance you'll receive.
- What skills would be beneficial for me to work on?
- Where do you think I can improve?
- What could I have done differently in this specific situation that may have improved the outcome?
- Do you have any recommendations for professional development courses?
- Are there any good books you can suggest that would help me improve my X skill?
For those planning a workplace mentoring program
If you're currently building your mentorship program, chances are you're concerned with manually pairing your mentees with the right mentors.
Not to worry. Thanks to Together's mentoring software, our pairing algorithm easily matches every employee with a mentor at the click of a button! Eliminate the hours spent on manual matching and pairings for every mentee/mentor program — and focus on other important tasks and get a good night's sleep while at it.
Not convinced yet? Learn how First Horizon grew its program by 25% while also adding three new mentoring programs for high-potential employees.
Bonus: Questions mentors can ask mentees
Mentees aren’t the only ones benefiting from mentorship, and nor should they be the only ones putting in the effort. While mentorship is often viewed somewhat as a one-way street, mentors also gain significant benefits from the relationship. Beyond personal fulfillment, mentors gain valuable leadership experience, insights into a younger generation and fresh ideas. Plus, who knows where your mentee will end up in the future. It’s likely that the relationship will come full circle.
So don’t take your mentorship role lightly. In fact, it’s been shown that bad mentoring can actually be worse than no mentoring at all.
Here are some questions to help you get to know your mentee and how to better guide them:
- What are your goals for this relationship?
- Where do you see yourself in 3-5 years?
- What are your greatest challenges right now?
- What part of your job most excites you?
- What motivates you?
- If someone was writing the story of your career, what would you want it to be?
If you want even more questions check out our blog on questions mentors should ask their mentees.
Maintaining a strong relationship with your mentor can be invaluable to your career. Whether to stand in your corner, provide advice, or bounce ideas off of, having a mentor can play a significant role in your life — both professional and personal.
Ideally, the relationship between mentor and mentee doesn't end after a handful of meetings — rather, it's one that lasts.
There are a number of things you can do to ensure that your relationship doesn't fizzle.
Decide on your meeting cadence
Discuss how often you want to check in with each other and in what format. Maybe you meet once a month, but check in every couple of weeks via email or slack. Find a cadence and routine that works for both parties.
It's easy to cover a lot of ground in your mentorship meeting but not follow through. The accountability goes both ways: Your mentor can hold you accountable for reaching your goals, and you can hold your mentor accountable to meeting regularly and following through on commitments made.
Say "thank you!"
Mentors are like having an experienced tour guide for life's professional and personal journey. Hence, they need to be appreciated and shown gratitude. Show gratitude for all the advice, effort, and encouragement they've given you. This need not be complicated — a simple "thank you" will go a long way.
Thanking your mentor and celebrating each other's milestones will create a strong bond between you and show your mentor you value their input in your life, professionally and personally.
Above all, be authentic. Mentorship, at its core, is about building a relationship. Like all good relationships, there should be mutual respect, good communication, and empathy. Don't let the relationship die once you've reached your goals. For a successful mentorship program, invest in the long-term!