Lyndsay Brown MBCS, a Salesforce Developer with BCS, mentors women to achieve their dreams in tech. Here, she presents her top tips for fostering and maintaining a winning partnership.

When done right, the act of mentoring someone in their career is like planting a new garden. You make sure the groundwork is solid, tend to the environment to make it as nourishing as possible for your plants, plant your seeds, water and feed them and, with time, watch the garden flourish. You can sit back and enjoy it knowing that you put in the hard work to provide the best environment for your plants so they can work hard doing their own job .

Mentoring is no different — except, of course, that you’re dealing with human beings rather than plants . But you’re still working towards watching your mentee grow in their careers based on the groundwork, guidance and nourishment you put into your working relationship. As with watching your garden grow, watching someone excel in their career, when you’ve helped them get there, brings an incredible feeling of pride and achievement.

The value of mentoring

In an industry that demands technical skill and precision, it can be daunting to take those first tentative steps into an IT career, or aim for a different direction to what you’re used to. There are many avenues that could be followed to gain the necessary skills and experience needed for your new adventure, but for people of any age, a mentor can be exactly what you need to start, or continue, your journey.

Mentoring someone to excel in their career, or get where they want to go, isn’t always so easy. It is a skill in its own right that needs exercising to keep it in tip top condition. It can be so easy to doubt your own expertise and wonder if you’re the right person to be someone’s guide, but mentoring someone is tremendously rewarding if you get the recipe right. Here are some top tips for making the most of your experience as a mentor and how you can use your knowledge, expertise and skill to help someone achieve their own goals.

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  • Share your own experiences: when starting a new career, whether that be as a newcomer or an established professional wishing to take a new direction, you can feel very alone. The disorientation that comes with embarking on a new journey can be very confusing and it’s easy for Imposter Syndrome to kick in. As a mentor, it’s important to let your mentee know that you were once in that very same position and how you coped with being the new kid on the block. Sharing your own journey could be exactly what your mentee needs to build the grit and determination that they need to push forward, so don’t be afraid to share the lows as well as the highs so they can avoid the same mistakes or wrong decisions that you made. It’s important that people understand what they’re in for when starting a new career, so sharing is most definitely caring!
  • Actively listen: when mentoring, it’s important to fully grasp what it is that your mentee wants out of the relationship so that you can tailor your advice accordingly and prevent giving them information that could send them off on the wrong road. Like with plants, we need to be fully clued in on your mentee’s requirements so that you can look after them correctly and promote growth. Active listening is an essential skill in mentoring, so if it isn’t one of your strong points, exercise that muscle! Maintaining eye contact, reacting to facial expressions, non-verbal cues and body language can still be accomplished while on a video call, so make sure that you aren’t just checking for these in your mentee; really show them that you’re actively listening by using them yourself too! Taking a genuine interest in what your mentee wants and needs is a shortcut to success and your working relationship will be better for it.
  • Don’t be a fixer: we have all been in the situation where someone wants to talk to us about a particular problem and you know exactly what they need do to fix it. But a great deal of the time, people are just looking to sound out what they are thinking to get it off of their chest, rather than actively looking for solutions . If you’re unsure what the mentee is looking for, then gently enquiring once they have finished talking is the best way to go. A simple ‘do you want me to help fix this?’ can give you insight into whether you do need to fix an issue on their behalf or whether you need to gently guide instead. With climbing plants, simply giving them something to grab hold of, like a trellis, is enough for them to take off — but others need to be guided to the trellis in order to grab hold of it and flourish. Your mentee is no different and the relationship will go much better if you respond to their individual needs than if you step in where you aren’t needed.
  • Leverage your contacts: as mentors, we may not know the answer to everything our mentee presents us with. If this is the case, as with everything in life, don’t go on guesswork alone. You could end up pointing people in the wrong direction, or focusing on something that is a dead end. If you don’t know, be honest! Your mentee will appreciate that. The best way to deal with questions you don’t know the answer to is to leverage your contacts. If there is someone who knows that subject better, ask their advice on how to approach the dilemma or reach out to your social media contacts (particularly LinkedIn) who may be better at providing guidance on that subject. You can even, if there is consent across the board, give the contact details of your network buddy to your mentee so that they can approach them directly and start to build their own network — cross-pollination!
  • Credit where credit is due: this is possibly the most important point on this list, which is why it’s been saved for last. Some people will often encourage their plant’s growth by talking to them, or give them short shrift if they are growing in an undesired direction. Don’t be afraid to do the same with your mentee. Let them know when they’ve done well. Confidence is difficult to come by when you’re just starting out, or moving into a different career, and recognition of successes can give that little boost that might be needed to send off an application form, or take that leap of faith. Praise and encouragement is far and away the most useful tool in your mentoring tool box and, if given correctly, will boost your mentee’s confidence no end. Make sure, however, that you don’t come across as patronising as that can very quickly undo the world of good that came before it. However, that’s not to say that you can’t challenge — that has its own place in mentoring conversations. Honest, well framed critique is necessary to ground and grow your mentee.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of tips and tricks for mentoring relationships and there are endless books on how to mentor successfully. But if all of the above are put into place at the beginning of your time together, then the foundation of your working relationship will be strong and allow flexibility as you get to know each other over what will hopefully be a long term, supportive partnership. As a mentor, passing on your hard earned wisdom and seeing someone succeed with what you have taught them is one of the most rewarding things you can do in your career.

Never underestimate the satisfaction of having a positive impact on another’s life. Just like creating a well matured and maintained garden, mentoring someone to success can be a way to create a legacy that will keep being nurtured and built upon for years to come.