How to mentor more efficiently

photo-214I’m working this week on a story on ways to mentor more efficiently. Warm and fuzzy as it might feel, mentoring is not a purely charitable act; over time it can massively help you in your career, particularly if you make time for it early on. People’s careers progress at different rates, and the people you mentor early on aren’t starting that far behind you. It’s entirely possible that someone you mentor will have a major breakthrough, and hopefully use some of that career capital to help you too.

That said, mentoring tends to fall into the same category as reading and exercise. People say they’d love to do it, if only I had the time! Unlike exercise, though, relationships are not neatly compressed into something you do for half an hour at 6 a.m. four days per week. So is it even possible to talk about efficiencies?

I think it is. One of the best ideas I’ve heard on this front came from a woman I interviewed for 168 Hours. She ran a foundation, and lots of people would like to figure out how to build a career in the philanthropic space. She’d get requests for informational interviews, people asking to take her out to coffee to “pick her brain” (ugh, that phrase!), etc. So she came up with a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that she could share with people. This went over what hiring officers tend to look for on resumes, what experiences to play up, how decisions are made, etc.

This FAQ served three purposes. First, she could be at least semi-helpful to everyone who asked. It isn’t that hard to send someone a list of answers. Second, a reasonable chunk of people would not follow up after that. If so, fine. Time is limited. We all have just 168 hours per week, and most of us don’t work more than 2000-3000 hours per year. There are a lot of priorities that have to fit within that time. Third, those who did follow up wouldn’t spend their informational meeting asking the same questions that were on the FAQs (well, not usually). That meant that the quality of those sessions was much higher. They could get more specific about who, exactly, the mentee wished to be introduced to.

Have you ever seen — or used — a mentoring FAQ? What other ideas do you have for being slightly more efficient as you try to invest in people?

In other news: On the title front — THEIR OWN SWEET TIME: How successful women build lives that work.

20 thoughts on “How to mentor more efficiently

  1. Love the title!!! Awesome.

    I found it very interesting when I signed up for the mentor program at my old job (they had a formal one where they matched people according to interests and skills), I’d get several people “requesting” me, but when I’d ask them to schedule a meeting, they would never actually do it.

    I think it’s one of those things that always gets lower priority than whatever you need to finish at the time (from the mentee perspective).

    I’ve never asked anyone super high-level for mentoring advice, so I’ve been lucky to get advice and time from folks. I can see how really successful people would need to weed out requests, though.

    1. @ARC – yes, I think mentoring is widely perceived as a nice-to-do, and just like reading and exercise, it is easy to skip. (and thanks on the title!)

  2. I don’t have much experience with the mentoring bit, but having FAQs has cut way down on the amount of time I spend answering questions from readers.

    Also, I think the new title is a much better reflection of what your book is actually about. Thumbs up.

    1. @The Frugal Girl – I imagine the FAQ does help on that front. I’ve thought about creating a few FAQ documents: book proposals, book promotion, making a living as a writer. Then I’m like, hey, I should turn those into actual ebooks!

      And thanks for the thumbs up – I am glad to get this settled.

      1. I have them written up as email responses for things I get all the time (guest post pitches, advertising inquiries, etc.). I just found myself writing the same thing over and over again before I realized, hey, I could just save this and send it next time I need it!

        And sometimes I write a blog post about a topic if I get emails about it all the time.

        1. @The Frugal Girl – I sometimes kick myself that I haven’t saved such emails. Ah, someday I will learn to be efficient…

  3. Oh, rad title!

    I have a couple of blog posts that I’ll refer people to, but sometimes I’ll offer to chat via gchat or phone while I’m driving (via earbuds).

    If I’ve spoken on a particular topic at a conference, I’ll also shoot over some notes. I did a session last month and someone liveblogged the whole thing, so it’s been great to shoot people a link to that if they’re interested in the topic.

  4. I’m honestly not crazy about the title. I’ve only ever heard that phrase said derisively and (even with the tag line) it makes me think of stonewalling or being lazy – exactly the opposite of what your message is.

    1. I know what you mean. I’m just picturing one of my southern relatives saying “you took your own sweet time with that” if someone was dawdling.

    2. @Chelsea – I’m aware of the dawdling connotation, but I find that to be kind of a nice twist. The image in much of this literature is of being “maxed out” and “overwhelmed” — and my finding is that life is generally not a 168-hour horror show, even if you have a lot of big responsibilities. There’s a lot of relaxed time too.

  5. I am with Chelsea. I like the subtitle though. I’d prefer ‘In their own time: ….’ Seems more empowering.

  6. I really want the mentoring, but within my company I haven’t found it helpful. I feel like there isn’t much follow through. I request sessions, but because the gentlemen I am trying to nail down is only in town minimally I don’t feel like I’m a priority. I may use the reverse of the situation. Ask for a FAQ or “give me 5-10 of your best pieces of advice to a young professional, or what you have found helpful in building your career.” I suppose I don’t really know what I’m trying to get out of the mentor sessions in general, so I may be asking wrong…

    1. @holly – that is frustrating. I know that a lot of companies have established formal mentoring programs and yet from conversations I have with people, I find that many people don’t think they’ve served their purpose. I think mentoring is hard to formalize especially if you’re trying to build an ongoing relationship. One of the people I’m interviewing refers to it as 3 cups of coffee. As in you have 3 coffees, then it fizzles.

  7. Yay! I’m really really looking forward to your book but I was really worried it was going to be called something like ‘having it all’. I like the word play and it works well for the theme. Congrats on getting it sorted!

    1. @Lily- thanks! Yes, I think this is a good way around the problems of having it all as a phrase, and also indicates that it is about time (which was the problem with Mosaic – it required explanation).

  8. I like the title. I actually like the juxtaposition of the dawdling-connotation with the rushing around career-woman trope. I think that’s exactly your message—even in the midst of “busy” there is time to savor the sweetness.

    1. @Ana – yep. There’s this stereotype of having every minute hyper-managed with all the joy beaten out of it. Which isn’t what life really looks like. There’s dawdly time too (like my reading on Saturday morning…)

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