It can be a great honour to be asked to mentor someone as they begin their career, or even an established professional looking for further development. As well as the satisfaction of supporting someone with their career, it is an unparalleled opportunity to broaden your own skills, understanding and network.
However, the experience should always work for both parties. Due to this, it can sometimes be advisable to create a mutually agreed ‘Mentorship Agreement’, which will set out the terms of the mentorship and what is expected of both the mentor and the mentee.
Whether you choose to create a ‘Mentorship Agreement’ or not, you should consider the following factors before agreeing to a mentorship.
Before you agree to mentor someone, remember to be realistic about what promises you make them, or what you claim to offer. Choosing someone to be a mentor can be an important decision to a mentee, and they may have certain requirements or expertise that they seek. Have an honest discussion with them about what they want to develop from the process, and consider whether you are able to meet these needs. Make sure you are clear with any potential mentee about what experiences you can, or are willing to, share with them.
Similarly, you should be clear and honest about the availability you can offer the mentee for things such as mentoring sessions, one-to-one meetings and out-of-office queries. You need to be able to offer the mentee a worthwhile amount of time while also being reasonable about your own time management. Offering more time than you can manage does not benefit anyone – you may feel overworked and distracted, whilst the mentee might feel disregarded or inconvenient.
Although it is not always possible to be specific about how often or when you meet, you should try and commit to regular meetings from the start. For example, you may choose to meet ‘every Tuesday and Friday at 4pm’ or you may choose to ‘regularly agree to two sessions per week’. Recording these terms from the beginning means that both mentor and mentee can hold each other to account.
As a mentor, it is vital that you maintain a motivating and supportive attitude towards your mentee. Your mentee will be looking to you to be an advocate for them and their career, providing constructive advice and positive support throughout the mentorship. This does not mean that you have to agree to everything they say, or constantly praise them – it means that your words and actions should be unjudgemental, and in the interest of supporting their professional growth.
This can be a difficult thing to record in an agreement, but you can monitor this by encouraging check-ins with your mentee to see that they are feeling supported. An open dialogue will enable you both to get the most from the experience.
It can be mutually beneficial to set boundaries on different aspects of the process. In the first instance this may relate to your time with them and how you spend it. Be clear about when you will hold your sessions, and whether they can contact you out of hours. It is advisable to set boundaries on what you do – whether the sessions will only be one-to-one chats, or whether they can shadow your work and partake in practical tasks.
Secondly, you should have clear boundaries on your relationship with your mentee. Your relationship should always be strictly professional, but you may have moments when you or your mentee wishes to discuss something confidential. Throughout the process, be clear what you are happy to talk about and what information you share should remain confidential between you.
Once you have agreed to these terms, it is important that both parties commit to the conditions set out. If either person feels the agreement is not being met, don’t be afraid to organise a discussion on the matter and amend or, if necessary, disband the arrangement. Similarly, if you do not feel that you can commit to the conditions necessary to mentor, be honest and politely decline the offer.
A mentorship should be a positive, encouraging and educational experience for both parties, so it is always worthwhile agreeing to terms to make sure that it is mutually beneficial.