The importance of the mentor-mentee relationship

Apr 09, 2015


Sarah Leonard

Sarah Leonard was raised in the small town of Nashua, Iowa. She completed her B.A. at the University of Iowa and earned her Juris Doctor from William Mitchell College of Law in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Before becoming a Trust Officer for U.S. Bank in Iowa City, she practiced at a small law firm in Saint Paul, Minnesota specializing in estate planning, trust administration, and probate. This past year, Sarah and her husband, Luke, welcomed their first child, a beautiful baby boy.

An important, yet often overlooked step in networking is the mentor/mentee relationship. Mentor is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a trusted counselor or guide.” This would make it sound very one-sided, but mentoring is actually a mutually beneficial endeavor. The mentee gets the advice and guidance of a more experienced individual, while the mentor has the opportunity to give back to their profession though the guidance of their mentee. Wherever you are in your professional life – mentoring is for you.

A person who is just starting out in a profession needs to have a mentor. I make this as a statement and not a suggestion because I cannot think of a single person in history who enjoys the proverbial reinventing of the wheel – which is what one is relegated to early in one’s career without the aid of a mentor.

A mentor should be someone well established in their profession who can give a mentee solid advice and help them with the twists and turns in their career path. While your immediate peers may be able to commiserate with you, they typically do not have the experience and position to be able to guide and give solid career advice. Peers are on the same part of the path you are; any advice is most likely speculation. With a mentor, you do not get speculation because he or she is someone seasoned in your profession who has already navigated the career path you are on (or a similar path).

A mentor can be a great resource of information and direction. But you only take out of mentorship what you put into it. You have to be sure to keep asking questions and engaging your mentor. Never forget that your mentor is volunteering their time to speak with you, and while it is important to give back to your chosen profession – it’s not required. Her or his time is valuable, so make the meetings you have with your mentor productive by planning ahead.

If you are a mentor, or are considering becoming a mentor, think about where you were early in your career and what kind of advice would be helpful to someone starting out. Sometimes advice does not even need to be specifically about the career. An example from my own life: as a newbie attorney, my mentor stressed work/life balance. He did this because he had worked himself into a heart attack and he did not want to see me do the same. Although I have since switched careers, he is still my mentor because his advice still holds true in my different (but similar) career path.

Also, remember that while being a mentor is a time commitment, it is a worthy one. Your mentee will need to set up times to see you or speak with you every now and again. How often and what type of communication can be up to you and your mentee.

The mentor/mentee relationship can be a very rewarding experience. You get from it what you put into it, and if you put in a lot you can reap a lot of benefits and that goes for both the mentor and the mentee.