Maximizing Mentoring Relationships


Mentor, Charlotte chapter member Lindsay Hall (L); Mentee, LA chapter member Jolene Latimer (R)

How should a mentee make the most of her opportunity? Can a mentor benefit from the experience, too? One WISE Within mentor-mentee duo, Lindsay Hall, senior director of marketing strategy at NASCAR, and Jolene Latimer, a writer and host of theScore, share their tips for …

Finding the right match:

LH: "Before my experience with Jolene, I would have thought I'd be most useful to women in similar roles or the same sport as me, but she opened my eyes to the fact that being on different tracks, in different sports, or even in different cities doesn't matter. The most important thing is that the mentee is open to what the mentor has to offer, and that the mentor is committed to giving time and effort to the mentee. Still, sometimes it's just not going to work out. Like with dating, you have to be able to admit when it's not a good fit."

JL: "I think what a mentee should be looking for is someone a couple of career steps above her who can help her to think strategically and develop critical soft skills. A mentor doesn't need to know your particular side of the industry front to back; a mentorship is not an apprenticeship. Although Lindsay is not a journalist, she gave me the kind of high-level advice that allowed me to think through different ideas."

Starting off on the right foot:

JL: "I did a mentoring program through the LA chapter first, and the organizers made it very clear that I would get out of it what I put in. It's in the mentee's hands to craft the experience and set expectations. To move the ball forward, you need to be clear about your goal and how your mentor can help you achieve it, set an agenda for each meeting, and do the homework. I would encourage every mentee to have an early conversation with their mentor about what they want to get out of the relationship. I also have one piece of advice for mentors: It's fine to put a time limit on your commitment, so long as you are willing and able to honor the full scope of the commitment you make."

LH: "You may not realize you need a network until you actually need a network, and at that moment it's too late to start building one. So you should always be thinking ahead, always be reaching out. Remember, the initial conversations should be more general and introductory. It takes time for a useful relationship to develop."

Getting the most out of each session:

LH: "Our meetings were very productive because Jolene was organized. She would have a purpose for every one. The onus falls on the mentee to keep things moving forward. They need to set up the calls and lead the conversations. That said, whenever we met, I was very attuned to her needs and I followed up after we talked with the links and resources I had promised."

JL: "To start, my agendas were very detailed. For the first call, I wrote: 'I'd love to discuss your preferred contact method, my goals, what would make this relationship great for you … .' As we went on, I got less formal. But I still prepped some questions, about, for example, other opportunities for journalists in sports, or whether I was overreacting to a work situation."

Ensuring success:

JL: "For me, the biggest benefit was knowing there was someone in my court. Lindsay also kept me accountable; it's easy to put things off, but if someone is giving you their time you owe it to the relationship to be engaged. And don't be flaky; send an invite for the next meeting as soon as the current one is over. Also, remember, this is not a therapy session; you're looking for professional guidance. Finally, be open to what they have to say."

LH: "Jolene was so buttoned up that I looked forward to our conversations. She wanted to make a change but didn't know exactly how to do it. I read through her résumé. I had advice for next steps, and I was happy to open my network to her. As a bonus, I expanded my own network through her."

Participating in a formal program:

LH: "There is no program at my work, and I have no direct reports at the moment. WISE Within fills that hole. And it's all resourced for you."

JL: "I don't think you get this type of connection in the workplace even if you have an informal mentor, because you can't always be as honest about your goals or desire for change. Plus, the formal method keeps everything targeted."