10 Professional Discussions Millennials Should Have With Their Mentors

Co-written with A. Crosser

What is the culture of your organization?

What’s more important to you corporate values, mission or vision?

If you could start your company all over again, what would you have done differently?

Were three of the thoughtfully selected questions asked by a bright young woman named Tong from The Washington Center internship program today as she ponders her career path.

The Millennial generation (born 1980 – 2000) is coming of age, and many of today’s young adults are finding themselves in their first real positions as professionals or on the cusp of starting families. As they graduate college and find jobs in their field, many younger Millennials are looking to their mentors to help guide them through this turning point in their professional lives and help them navigate the somewhat turbulent seas of the workplace.

Millennials face many struggles which are unique to their generation. They have different ambitions, and treat their professional lives differently than those who came before them. They also have Glassdoor.com, Linkedin and many tools that we didn’t have on our quest to rise through the ranks.

PURPOSE OVER PAYCHECK: According to a Deloitte study, 64 percent of Millennials say their personal values have the greatest impact on their decision-making process, and 56 percent of Millennials globally have decided against ever working for a company based on their values and standard of conduct. A second Deloitte study shows that a whopping 87 percent of Millennials believe a company’s success should be determined by more than their financial performance – namely, they believe employee satisfaction should be taken into consideration. This is a major shift in perspective, as many older professionals haven’t placed as much of a premium on where they work or at times the ethics of their company – many only see their job as a way to put food on the table for their family.

What do these statistics mean for newer members of our workforce? Simply put, they indicate lack of guidance in for today’s upcoming professionals, as they live (and drive) a new reality which older generations might not relate to in the same way. They may look at their father who worked in an unethical factory for 20 years of his life, and find no support when they say they don’t want to work there out from a moral standpoint. They might feel some skepticism toward the Baby Boomer professor who has publicly apologized in classrooms for their generation leaving the future with trillions in debt. Millennial women globally face a particularly difficult personal battle, as their mothers and other women in their family may encourage them to marry and have a family instead of pursuing a career. In 1970, only 11 percent of women with college degrees were employed by the labor force — a number which has risen to over 30 percent (in the United States) Women (with and without college degrees today make up almost 50% of the overall workforce in the US.

These statistics indicate a particular need for Millennials — the need for guidance and mentorship. We’re taking a look at the first 10 or 20 professional discussions millennials should have with their mentors in order to get the most out of their mentoring ‘sessions’. By having the discussions listed below, the next generation of young professionals can set themselves on course for great success in their fields. The answers to the questions below will help guide them in the right direction, helping them achieve their professional goals and make a difference in the world. Additionally, we encourage mentors to come up with sets of questions as well. We can all learn from each other and clear the cobwebs that often block us from seeing.

  1. “What do you wish you knew at my stage?”

As we grow and develop new knowledge, we begin to find answers to questions we had during our youth. Had we known these answers earlier in our careers, we may have made smarter or more informed decisions than those we ended up making. One of the best ways to share our accumulated knowledge is with young professionals entering our field, as we can guide them as we wish someone had guided us. If you’re a professional Millennial looking for guidance, ask your mentor what they wish they knew at your age or what they wished a mentor had told them – chances are, you’ll find very useful information that could change the course of your career.

  1. “What were your failures, and how did you learn from them?”

In the same boat as the discussion above, discussing past failure is an excellent way to learn what to avoid, and which paths to take. Part of making mistakes is learning lessons, and lessons should be passed on to others to help them avoid the same mistakes. As was said by Henry Ford ‘Failure is the chance to begin again more intelligently.’ and ‘Failure is neither fatal nor final.’ Here you could have a great conversation on resiliency.

  1. “What would you do differently, if you could start over?”

As successful as your mentor may be, there are probably some scenarios they would do differently if they could go back in time. Ask them about situations which they believe they could have handled more efficiently, or decisions they wish they had or hadn’t made. These answers can help you avoid setbacks to your success, and make wiser decisions in the long-run.

  1. “What do you struggle with?”

Everyone struggles with something, no matter who they are, their age or where they came from. After years of practice, your mentor still struggles with some aspect of their career. Take many professional women in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, for example. While more than half of all University students in the Middle East and North African region are women, they make up only 21 percent of the workforce – largely due to societal demands. Many professional women struggle with raising a family and working in a career (particularly in STEM fields), despite how successful they may appear to others. These women could use their struggles to guide other young women enduring much of the same, to show them that societal demands can be overcome.

  1. “What would you do in my shoes?”

When you’re faced with difficult decisions, the best question you can ask is “what would you do if you were me?” It can be difficult to objectively analyze your situation and come up with the right “next move,” and asking someone who’s faced similar decisions what they would do in your shoes can help you understand what you might consider doing next. Another way to ask this question is “Have you been in a similar situation and how did you handle it?’ We have so much to learn from each other’s stories.

  1. “Describe your most rewarding accomplishment.”

Success has different meanings to different people. In our youth, success looks like fancy cars, Instagram worthy lifestyle and red carpets, but as we age it often takes on a new look. By asking mentors what they believe is their most rewarding accomplishment, you can get an idea of what they value as a result of their experience. You can get a picture of what your long-time goals might evolve into – in fact, your mentor’s answers will more than likely surprise, as they don’t often answer this question with the answers we think we’ll hear.

  1. “What am I doing wrong?”

Everyone wants to be right, but in reality we’re all wrong more often than we’d like to believe. Many times, fixing one or two small aspects of our perspectives, actions, and motives can mean a world of difference for our future. However, it’s challenging to evaluate ourselves as we have a natural tendency to believe we’re always right. Your mentor’s experience will allow them to objectively look at you and tell you what you can do better – for many, this invaluable advice can mean the difference between success and failure. Another way to rephrase this question is to explain a challenging situation and ask “What am I not seeing here about my role?” Reshma Saujani really pushes in her outstanding TED Talk that we encourage girls to be brave not perfect.

  1. “How can I become more productive at work?”

Even the most intelligent of people can fall victim to laziness or burnout. Some of the greatest ideas of all time may have been lost as the result of low-productivity, but even with this knowledge many of us struggle to discipline ourselves and make our dreams a reality. Your mentor has likely struggled with many of the same issues, so ask them to weigh in. It’s like being on a road trip and realizing you are out of gas or are dealing with a flat tire. Most professionals have their own set of productivity tips, so see what kind of advice your mentor has to offer to recharge your batteries. Also, please share with your old-timer (just kidding) some of the technology tools and more that make you more productive. We are big fans of reverse mentoring @Twomentor.

  1. “When you were my age, what were your goals? How have they changed?”

Over time, our goals change. We begin to prioritize certain aspects of our life over others, as we trade all night parties for families and fast food for gluten-free. What once seemed valuable and important can become meaningless overnight, but the striking change can cause fear and anxiety for many as it occurs. Many times, we’re afraid to let ourselves change for the better, as we fear that we may be leaving an important part of ourselves behind. By better understanding how your mentor’s goals have changed, you might become more comfortable as you face similar changes in your own life.

  1. “What traits do I need to succeed in this field?”

Every field has secrets to success – many of which you’ll never learn in a classroom. Medical professionals must be patient and empathetic, while engineers must have laser-sharp focus and an uncanny attention to detail. Artists and entrepreneurs must be both fearless and creative, while athletes must have perseverance. Your mentor can tell you exactly which traits create leaders in your field, and how you can develop them with ‘eye of the tiger’ conviction.

Next week we will share Part Two. 10 More Professional Discussions to Have with Your Mentor… Please follow this blog to alert you when it is posted.

Julie Silard Kantor is CEO of Twomentor, LLC a social impact company dedicated to helping companies retain Millennials and elevate women in STEM fields through mentor training and strategy. She will be chairing the Global Women in STEM Conference in Dubai October 25-26th through the Meera Kaul Foundation and recently presented a speech to 350 Millennials from 85 countries at the United Nations through World Merit360.

When Your Mentor Isn’t Perfect: 5 Strategies For Bringing Out The Best In Each Other

by Devi Jagadesan, Summer Associate at Twomentor

Nobody’s perfect, including our mentors that we look up to. Some of us are unorganized, lack communication, or simply get caught in the chaos of a difficult work schedule that we forget we have someone looking up to us as a role model. However, there is always room to improve as a mentor while bringing out the best in your mentee. According to Deloitte, Millennialsplanning to stay with their employer for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor (68%) than not (32%). Furthermore, according to a 2014 survey by The UPS Store70 percent of small businesses that receive mentoring survive more than five years – double the survival rate of non-mentored businesses. There is such a strong business case for mentoring, but these relationships can get derailed if not nurtured or if we have unrealistic expectations of each other.

1.    Honesty and open communication

It is important in a mentor/mentee relationship to build the foundation early for how you both will give and receive feedback. Being transparent builds trust and more room for open communication. Make sure as a mentor, you listen closely to your mentee and get to know them both as a person and a professional. You are in a position to help your mentee build on her/his strengths while giving constructive feedback on areas your mentee can improve. I had a concerned mentor ask me often “Are you taking care of yourself,” as part of his dedication to self care being vital in the workforce. His feedback was well received. If you go overboard with critical feedback, the relationship will most likely deteriorate. Good communication is key for a long-lasting mentor/mentee relationship.

2.    Goal setting and task oriented

Part of being a mentor is helping your mentee on the journey toward achieving his/her goals. A lot of mentor-mentee relationships fail because there are no clarified objectives as the basis of the working relationship. It is important to go over the mentee’s goals on the first or second meeting and recognize milestones monthly or bi-monthly. New goals may emerge. Some mentors try to form their mentee into their own image, by having your mentee establish their own goals. Your job is to support your mentees vision and success while encourage them to keep the momentum moving forward.

3.    Mutual respect

Your mentor or mentee might disappoint you personally or professionally. This can be very hard emotionally on the relationship. Mentors and mentees must have mutual respect for one another but might have different values, and beliefs. Although a mentor usually has more experience than the mentee, being able to respect his/her mentee for their strengths and all they have to bring to the table is vital. When a mentor believes in the mentee, it gives them the courage and confidence. Likewise, when the mentee has respect for their mentor for their experience, skills, ability to guide, the mentor is more willing to help. The mentor has an abundance of knowledge to offer the mentee. Each individual will grow together. If you feel on either side that the person is unethical, we suggest you move on and not align yourself with them further.

4.    Carve out time for each other

Along with having mutual respect, a mentor and mentee must allocate enough time for each other. Cancelling and rescheduling too many meetings can really weaken the potential of the relationship. This goes back to the point of mutual respect and valuing the other person’s time. Although we aren’t perfect, and sometimes get lost in a sea of scheduling conflicts, the relationship between a mentor and mentee is an important priority. Carving out enough time for each other must be in the upfront plan, even if it is just for 3 – 9 months of meetings.

5.    Ask each other LOTS of questions

One of the best parts about the mentor and mentee relationship is that there for room for growth for both parties and trust needs to be established early. Getting to know each other is important whether it is about one another’s work, family life, or favorite hobbies and dreams. Finding commonalities make the relationship stronger and more enjoyable for both of you. You do not want to be strangers with your mentee, you want to build a rapport that makes you excited to be on this journey together. The more comfortable you both are, the more questions you can ask each other for learning and growth.  Sharing your life experiences openly is also important for your mentee to hear so they can learn from your successes and mistakes. Your honest insights will make your mentee feel safe in opening up as well.

Lastly,  The mentor/mentee relationship is a learning experience. If you follow these five recommendations, it will only strengthen the bond. A bond is formed when two people are able to be their true, authentic selves around one another. So the best advice is BE YOU, flaws and all because that is how both parties will benefit and grow.

LET’S TALK! 
Scheduling Contact, Sophia@twomentor.com

Are You Mentor-Able?

Written by Julie Kantor and Karen Osborn, Twomentor

Moving into the challenging professional world is an intimidating journey but thankfully, it doesn’t need to be tackled alone.

Mentorship, from academic to professional settings, is an active and involved process, but the benefits are well worth the effort. According to a survey carried out by Micromentor.org, mentored individuals and entrepreneurs significantly outperformed those who don’t receive mentoring. Additionally, a study conducted by the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) revealed that 75% of executives point to mentoring as playing a key role in their careers.

Makes sense! But what we view as a given (that mentoring is happening informally at our companies) is not actually a given. In fact, as we travel the globe running the Mentor Road Trip™ mentor training sessions, we have witnessed firsthand at women’s conferences, at leadership development conferences, at HR executive conferences, at conferences focused on Millennials and multi-gen workforce that well under 50% of attendees answer YES when asked this simple question “Do you have or have you had a professional mentor?”

So how does one go about finding and building a mentoring relationship? Here are five things to focus on when starting your journey:

  1. Be Proactive, Committed, and Clarify Your Needs

Mentorship can happen organically, but that is the exception, not the rule. In order to maximize your options, be diligent in figuring out what you are looking for and what your professional or personal goals are. Being passive causes way too much confusion in these budding relationships. Spend an hour and write down 3-5 goals. Reflect on how a mentor can best help you move your vision forward? In what specific areas are you looking for guidance? If you’re just looking for a mentor to advance you the next job, that’s not really mentoring. That’s sponsorship.

So where’s the love? People are so isolated at work, so hidden behind computer screens, often unclear how to navigate the professional seas riddled with jellyfish and mysterious sea animals. Asking someone to be a mentor is an investment in your well being… and theirs. A mentor can make you feel plugged in, connected again. That someone out there cares about you and your professional trajectory. This is a big ask that’s mutually rewarding. You need to invest too with your best foot forward. A study by the Journal of Organization Behavior demonstrates that mentored individuals reported having more satisfaction, career mobility/opportunity, recognition and an overall higher promotion rate than non-mentored individuals. A mentor can help you to develop skills, offer career advice, and enhance your network amongst other things, but you again, you first need to understand and determine your own aspirations in order to figure out what type of person will be the best fit. Once you have determined these goals, you can start thinking about your network for ‘fit’ or ask people for introductions. I [Julie] want to scale my company for example, so I started asking people I respect who would be a good mentor to help me specifically with scalability strategy for 3 – 6 months. Start simple, by inviting a prospective mentor for a cup of coffee, tea or lunch, and share upfront that you would love their advice on a few things. Think of this as a first professional date to determine if you can learn from this person, that they want to open up their mental world to you and make sure you have a good and honest rapport.

  1. Work on Being Very “Mentor-Able”

Mentorship is a multi-dimensional relationship, and the value of a mentor-mentee relationship comes from applicable knowledge being shared between the two. If you are unwilling to take advice, constructive criticism, or be flexible in your thinking, having a mentor will likely not be a good fit for you. Openness, candor, honesty, listening… all ingredients to this delicate recipe. When looking for a mentor, look for someone that you will work well with, and make sure that you are willing to do your part to be a good mentee. In fact, you will need to take a leadership role in many aspects of this relationship. A study by the National Institute of Health found that the five main characteristics of successful mentoring relationships include: reciprocity, mutual respect, clear expectations, personal connection, and shared values. One thing about being very mentor-able is that your mentor will be much more likely to want to introduce you to other people and keep you in mind for opportunities in the future that might benefit you. Additionally, your mentor might talk about you to other influencers down the line based on your willingness to learn, grow and follow up on good advice towards your goals. If you are headstrong and difficult to work with, your mentor might not want to invest as much time or put their reputation on the line on behalf of you. Never be late for your sessions/meetings.

  1. Focus on Your Relationship Structure

You will need to actively and regularly communicate with your mentor, shadow them if possible, and actively pursue educational or professional opportunities with them. We suggest at least one meeting a month for 60-90 minutes. We view in person as best, but a Skype, FaceTime or Zoom online coffee call is fine too. Better to see each other live and really focus… not have someone checking out the latest news on CNN or schedules their next teeth cleaning in the middle of the call. The success of your mentorship relies on the effort you put in, including good follow up, being on time, and don’t expect to find a mentor and have everything happen toward your goals overnight. One thing we see a lot at Twomentor is that people get together but it’s unclear who is supposed to lead the relationship. The mentor expects the mentee to reach out, or the mentee comes to a meeting with no specific questions, goals, or focus. There needs to be some structure, including clear objectives you want to focus on with your mentor. We suggest you write up a one-page vision of how you want to grow and specifics on how your mentor can help you with your goals. It is important that you come to your meeting(s) prepared and with specific discussion topics or questions you have. We suggest you set up your next meeting on the spot when you are together. Keep track of your work and actions so your mentor knows you are taking his/her time seriously and so you have clarity regarding your progress.

  1. No Challenge… No Real Growth

We saw a great quote on Pinterest today, “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing grows there.” We often grow the most when we are in pain or challenged. If you are not willing to challenge your limits and expand your perspectives, you will not be able to get the most out of your mentor relationship. One of the most important aspects of mentorship is the ability to learn from the experience of your mentor, and apply their lessons to your current and future personal and professional situations. A mentor should continually challenge and push you in order to grow and develop both professionally and as an individual. There is much more value in honest feedback of your strengths and areas of improvements than there is in simple encouragement. Both are valuable, don’t get me wrong. A mentor will be more comfortable offering this type of feedback if they think you genuinely want it. So ask for it. Mentorship fosters personal and professional development, as noted by a Wharton/Gartner study on Sun Microsystems (2006), where employees who received mentoring were promoted five times more often than those who did not! Additionally, mentors and mentees both had 20% higher retention rates at the company… a WIN/WIN/WIN for the mentor, mentee, and the company better retaining good people.

  1. More Than One?

Some people refer to this as having an internal board of advisors. Different mentors have different strengths, experiences, networks, and perspectives. Therefore, they will serve as a mentor to you in different ways or on different priorities you want to focus on. For example, a mentor who is great for supporting creative ideas will help you differently than another who can guide you through business growth and financial planning. A study by the Journal of Applied Social Psychology on internal versus external organizational mentors found that mentoring relationships within an organization serve to provide mentees with career and psychosocial support, while external mentorship relationships focus more on networking and personal development. The better perspectives and different styles of mentorship you are exposed to, the more you will be able to adapt what you learn to your own personal and professional needs. When looking for a mentor, don’t disregard someone because they are not an expert in all of the areas you’re looking to grow in. Rather, find experts in different fields, and make a few of them your mentors.

There is so much more we can discuss on being mentor-able, but we want to leave you with one last tip.

Show the love (or gratitude). Do something nice for your mentor. Show appreciation each step of the journey. Bring him a Cappuccino, buy her breakfast, send a handwritten card reflecting on something you learned, say thank you. Good friends are worth their weight in gold. A good mentor might be a professional lifeline for you today or a bridge to your success tomorrow.