How to start a mentorship in the right way

Published April 1, 2020

It’s the much-dreaded blank-paper-problem, the start of it all when you are exchanging these first initial crucial messages. Starting a mentorship takes leadership and courage and is often the base of productive collaboration.

How to start a mentorship in the right way

The start of mentorship is so important because it sets the trajectory for the rest of the collaboration. If a mentorship starts out with silence, it’s hard to ever really hit the ground running. Instead, if a mentorship starts with a good plan, a goal in sight and a call to start things off, it can really transform the mentorship.

Nothing happens without a goal

If you mentor through MentorCruise, a mentee will reach out to you with a specific goal. Your first objective is it to fully understand that goal and make sure that you are aware of the specifications of said goal.

Your very first message could, therefore, be something like this:

Hello Y, my name is Dominic and I am excited to help you take the steps towards reaching your goal. Just that I understand correctly, you are currently [situation] and would like to [goal] within [timeline]? Let’s set up a plan for that…

Having a goal is important to be able to plan out milestones and have shared knowledge of where the journey goes towards. It’s also often a first reality check: Is this goal reasonable within the time frame? What kind of skills are needed? Can one mentor help with that, or are multiple needed?

If you are mentoring independently or on another platform, it is really important to establish a goal in the first place. It makes sense to check-in frequently to make sure that the goal hasn’t diverged, and possibly to re-configure if it has.

Not only business – get to know each other personally

Mentorships are quite commonly reserved for the business world. It’s easy to let the guards up, talk strictly business, but especially when it comes to people’s out-of-work time, getting to know each other personally is equally as important.

This isn’t supposed to be pushy at all, and most details of each person’s personal life do not need to be shared publicly, but even objectively from a mentorship perspective, it is extremely helpful to know a few details:

  • How much time can be invested in mentorship besides career?
  • Does the person have kids or a family, which may result in more outside obligations?
  • If it’s a paid coaching/mentorship, how do finances of that person look like? Can this work for the long-term financially?
  • What other factors might come into play, once the work begins?

Speaking from experience, this has helped me before in deciding what the strategy should be as a mentor, and not doing this has also led to a mentee feeling the need to cancel the mentorship, due to financial strains.

Set up a call or chat session in the first week

The first week is crucial for a mentorship, just like how the very first message is crucial. This is usually the time where a mentorship makes or breaks, which is why, on MentorCruise, mentorships are free in the first week with each mentor.

The best thing to quickly determine whether something is going to work out is to hop on a quick 20-minute call. This can happen as part of our first trial week and should make sure that everyone is on the same page.

Especially when it comes to cross-border mentorship, a face-to-face call can be what you need to clear up uncertainties and get a plan going in a very quick manner. Even if you decide not to do regular video chats, doing one upfront is recommended.

If you are not comfortable with scheduling a call, at least scheduling a time to have an intense chat for 15-20 mins through a real-time application can make sense. While this is fortunately not needed later in the process, it can be good to create a feeling of safety during a scheduled session.

Set up a schedule going forward

Obviously, mentorship doesn’t end after the first week (at least we hope it doesn’t) and should continue for a long while. To make sure that everything is aligned for the time forward, set up a fixed schedule of when to talk, when to check-in and when/if to schedule calls.

A sample (and very simple) schedule could look like this:

  • Check-In via Chat every evening
  • Meet through chat on Wednesdays at 8 PM UTC (20min block to chat)
  • Have a phone call every other Friday at 3 PM UTC

There isn’t much needed than this, and it might already be too much, but having a schedule set up and managing expectations like this is a key part of successful mentorship.