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How To Ask Someone To Be Your Mentor

Defining the specific outcomes you seek allows your mentor to be more focused and intentional with what they bring to your relationship.

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I am 10 months into my first professional role as a developer, and it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Recently, someone asked me: What has contributed most to your success?

Bar none, mentoring was crucial to my transition into a tech career.

In coding bootcamp, I was assigned to Jeremy, who I would meet with once a week by video chat for 6 months. I was so overwhelmed and frustrated during the first few lessons, but Jeremy's patient instruction and unwavering support convinced me that I could really do this software development thing!

Since then, I have enjoyed the privilege of mentoring several aspiring devs at various stages: some just starting coding bootcamp, others ready for the job-hunt. Through these relationships, I have identified certain characteristics that I believe can make a mentoring relationship more useful and rewarding for those involved.

No one person can meet all our mentoring needs. I have gained more from mentoring relationships that I defined specifically, than from those which were more general and nebulous in nature. Spending time to define the particular outcomes I seek from being mentored allows my mentor to be more focused and intentional with what they bring to our relationship. This definition also allows me to enjoy mentoring from several people, without feeling like these relationships are overextended or redundant.

Additionally, in my opinion, it is up to us - the mentees - to communicate when a mentoring relationship has run its course, or is no longer useful. Most mentors want to be kind and sensitive, even if they've sensed that they are no longer contributing much to our growth. We can sidestep that awkwardness by graciously thanking them for their input, and sharing our desire to move on beyond them. A mature mentor will welcome this level of honesty, and not see it as a rejection.

Here are some questions to consider as you seek a mentor:

  1. What types of support do you need? Technical (e.g. pair-programming, problem solving) or Process (e.g. study strategies, job-hunt approach)? If you choose several kinds, it may be helpful to quantify them (e.g. 40% technical, 60% process).
  2. How often would you like to meet, and in what way? Weekly phone call? Video chat every 2 weeks? Whatsapp conversations? Only when you have questions?
  3. Is there a time-limit on the mentoring relationship? For example: "Until I land a job" or "For up to 1 year". Personally, I am more comfortable with mentoring relationships that have a defined end-point, as it helps to focus our meetings. Note that ending a mentoring relationship does not mean that mentor is out of your life for good; they certainly remain in your professional network.

I hope these suggestions help you get the most out of your mentoring relationships, both as the mentor and the mentee. Thanks for reading!