Sunday, April 29, 2012

5 Questions To Ask New Mentees

One of the most popular reasons this blog is sought out by Mentors is to find out what types of questions are typically asked during the first set of conversations with a new mentee. I've discussed this broadly in an earlier post on how to start with a new mentee/protege. In that post I listed some questions to ask but it was focused more on starting the overall relationship. Below are some of those questions again that I and other Mentors I know typically ask in the "getting to know you" phase of a new mentoring relationship. This time I've included some explicit reasoning behind each of these questions:

  1. Why are you looking for mentoring/what do you expect to get out of mentoring? And what do you expect to give? - As with anything in life it's key to set expectations at the beginning. We want to make sure that Mentor and Mentee/Protege have similar goals in mind. If there isn't agreement early on then you know this particular pairing is unlikely to succeed. Both individuals should move on. The reason to ask the second question about what the Mentee expects to give is to establish at the start that mentoring is a two way street. Typically people think of mentoring as being an older, wiser person "teaching" a younger novice. Mentoring is much more than that. It's an activity that ultimately benefits both parties when both are in it to give something to the other.
  2. Where do you see yourself in five years? - The number of years in this question (1 year? 3 years? 5 years?) isn't as important as finding out whether or not your new mentee has a vision or a plan for themselves. Some do have a plan and seek out your help to get them there and others don't which is why they are looking for mentoring. I like to know whether this person will need my help designing an exciting future for themselves or figuring out if the vision they currently hold is one that they really, really, really want. 
  3. Have you had a mentor before and if so what worked/didn't work? - I ask, as any good Doctor would, if the person I'm speaking with has had any bad experiences (with mentoring) in the past. Mentoring is an activity that demands both parties be vulnerable at some point in order to achieve the maximum benefit. Too often allowing oneself to be vulnerable does not offer the results we'd like. As I'm big on learning from mistakes and want to ensure we avoid those moving forward I get these experiences out in the open early. If the person is new to mentoring all together I take extra time setting the ground rules and expectations as discussed in my earlier post.
  4. What propels you?/What is holding you back? - It's important to find out if your new Mentee/Protege is self-aware or not. When I have someone who can't easily answer this question I take the time to get them to be a bit more introspective. If someone provides me with clear, self-reflective answers then we're ahead of the game.
  5. Are you happy? - This is the grand daddy of them all! The 'ultimate' question. The mother of all questions. Most individuals initially seek out mentors because they are unhappy with something about themselves or their career. This question is key and the answers I get at the beginning are ones that I keep checking back into over the course of a relationship. Sometimes I simply help the Mentee achieve what they've decided will make them happy. Other times I guide the Mentee in changing (read: re-framing) their definition of what makes them happy. The latter is almost always a more powerful, awe-inspiring experience because many of us don't recognize the core of what makes us happy. We rarely realize the number of paths that core allows us to take that would make us truly content. Watching someone come to new realizations is one of the things I enjoy most about mentoring.
Of course there are thousands of things to ask and talk about over the course of a mentoring relationship but the above 5 should be good to get you started on a productive, mutually beneficial journey. Feel free to post some of your favorite questions to ask a new mentee in the comments below!


Ray K said...

Overall a very good post. However I question your fourth question (What propels you/what holds you back?). Isn't one's lack of being able to recognize their personal blockers the reason why they need mentoring in the first place?

If we could truly understand the things that hold us back then we'd all have our feet squarely on the accelerator. I suspect if someone can clearly answer that question for you then his/her problem is a personal misdiagnosis of what's really holding them back. No?

OnMentoring said...

Hi Ray K,

Thanks - glad you liked the post!

The purpose of that question is twofold:

1. Simply figure out how self-aware the mentee/protege is. Has this person started the process of self-reflection or are they just focused on the problems? This question helps me gauge that.

2. For those folks who do have an answer to this question some of them work with a mentor to figure out how to best and most efficiently put the "foot on the accelerator". And that's great if that's the case. Others think they know the answer but find out, with the help of a mentor, that their true answer is something quite different.

iman21 said...

This is good information.

Im a 22 female, self-aware of certain things. Overcoming alot of psychological/emotional barriers. I do feel confident to become a mentor for a teenager. I also have Crohn's disease and I am at peace with it. I exercice 4-5 times a week, and have a balanced diet. I'm an emotional person, and very sensitive to others. However, I also know i am a human being and have alot of fears and things holding me such as time, money. How are you sure if you're right to be a mentor?

OnMentoring said...

Hi iman21

Thanks for your comment. This is a fantastic question. In fact I can write a whole post entitled "How do you know if you'll make a good mentor?".

In general I believe everyone has something to offer some other person out there in a mentoring capacity. Perhaps you can try it out and see 1) if you enjoy it and 2) if your mentee gets something out of it.

Like any other activity ultimately you need to find the answer for yourself. Trying something out is usually a good way to figure out if it's an activity you want to pursue longer term.

I hope this helps!