Mentoring Matters

By Kate Skelly

The benefits of having a mentor can be invaluable to professionals at any career stage. Mentors can help with setting and achieving career goals, learning new skills, or offering a fresh perspective when you are facing challenges at work. Mentor relationships don’t exclusively benefit the mentee alone, however. Many mentors report feeling a sense of satisfaction from being able to help another professional through sharing their experiences and knowledge. Launching a new mentor relationship can often seem like a daunting task. To help you get started, we compiled the following tips for establishing and sustaining a successful mentor/mentee relationship.

Don’t Rush a Mentor Relationship
Experts stress that it is important to establish a rapport with someone before explicitly asking him or her to be your mentor. In the article, How To Find A Great Mentor -- First, Don't Ever Ask A Stranger, Kathy Caprino maintains that you shouldn’t ask a perfect stranger to be your mentor. Instead, she recommends starting a casual conversation with a potential mentor and building a relationship from there. For museum professionals who do not have access to suitable local mentors, this may seem like discouraging advice. Caprino underlines, however, that you do not need to live close to someone to begin a dialogue with them. She recommends starting a conversation with potential mentors through online networks as a first step. Contacting a fellow museum professional that you admire through email or social media is a great way to starting building a relationship. Later, when you have an opportunity to meet them in person at a conference or other professional networking event, you will already have established a foundation to start building a relationship on.
Finding the Right Match is Important
When searching for a mentor finding the right fit is key. Ideally you want to establish a relationship that feels comfortable for both of you. Michael Hyatt recommends looking for a mentor that is a few levels ahead of you in your chosen field. He advises finding someone who is accessible to you, non-intimidating, and who will be able to give you relevant advice for your current career stage. Ultimately, a good mentor should be someone that is eager to share knowledge, will be open and honest with you, and someone who has time to dedicate to you.
Have Clear Expectations 
Mentor relationships work best when both parties are on the same page in terms of expectations. The article, “Ten Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Mentor”, underscores the importance of establishing clear goals for a mentor relationship. The article recommends coming up with your “ideal” relationship, and openly communicating this information with your mentor. Find out how much time they are willing to invest in you and build a schedule based on that. In terms of how the mentor relationship will work, it can be a formal arrangement, an informal one, or something in the middle. What’s most important is that the agreed upon relationship work for both of you.
Set a Schedule
The Forbes article, 3 Tips for a Great Mentor Relationship, stresses the importance of having an agreed upon schedule for meeting with your mentor. Most professionals have demanding work schedules. In order to have a successful and active mentor relationship it is a good idea to have a routine meeting schedule. Forbes recommends meeting for coffee on the same day every month. If you’re mentor isn’t local, however, and meeting in-person regularly is not possible, consider setting up a regular Skype meeting. The Fortune article, “When your mentor is half a world away”, offers practical advice for how to maintain a long-distance mentor relationship. The article emphasizes that just as with a local mentor relationship, the importance of establishing an agreed upon schedule is key for making long-distance mentor relationships work. 

We hope that these tips will be a helpful resource to you when building mentor relationships in the future. Keep in mind that there is still time before the 2016 Annual Meeting to start making contact with your fellow Western museum professionals. Consider reaching out to colleagues via social media to get a conversation started before we convene in Phoenix!



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