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The Ultimate Guide to Mentoring – Insights from Meta’s Spandana Govindgari

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ARTICLE SUMMARY

Introducing Spandana Govindgari: one of Meta’s business engineers.

An active member of Meta’s Women@BE (their internal Women in Business Engineering group), Spandana shares with us her insights on the importance of having a mentor, how to find a mentor, and how to network.

What’s the difference between a mentor and a coach?

Coaches are experts in certain areas and they are performance driven. They usually focus on the short term goals and help you achieve them by setting realistic goals. A mentor on the other hand understands that self development takes time. They think about long term goals and your life vision and help you develop those skills that will benefit you the most throughout your life.

While an individual can benefit from both a coach and mentor, it is important to learn when to approach one vs the other or both. When in your career there are moments where you are stuck or lost and certain thoughts are not helping you move forward, it is time to consult a coach who will help you get out of those thoughts and focus on your immediate next steps to achieve whatever you are set out to in your career.

However when in life you have a crisis about what it is that you want your 20s or 30s or 40s to be then it is time to consult a mentor who have themselves gone through this at various times and will help you define your vision and mission statements for the development of your career. Mentors operate at a very high level and in a hands-off manner while coaches are very involved and operate hands-on to help you execute on your goals.

mentoring and networking

What are the traits of a good mentor?

A good mentor listens. That is their singular most important job. Great mentors give their undivided attention to listening to their mentee’s problems so they can empathize and get as much context as possible about them. Ideally a mentor should also have an experience gap of 5+ years. This is an ideal gap to establish good mentor-mentee relationship as they are able to come in with good amount of life experiences and expertise but still remember what it felt like. Good mentors also expect nothing in return. They are delighted to help and are direct in their advice. They are committed to your goals and what you want to achieve instead of trapping you in their advice. Good mentors appreciate a two way relationship. They want to learn something out of the experience as well and offer a life-long open door for you to contact them. They provide specific actionable advice and also follow up with you.

What is your advice for finding an appropriate mentor?

Asking someone to be your mentor is extremely nerve-racking enough that it is important that you are asking the right person. Just like every interview process, the mentor matching process also takes time, requires two-way wavelength matching and follow up meetings to get the relationship right. The first step is to find the right mentor. Sometimes these individuals may show up on your LinkedIn feed or some friend who you have always admired for their career choices.

I found First Round’s fast track program to be extremely helpful in discovering mentors. They have matched over 100+ mentors and mentees and run their program every year to help up and coming product managers, software engineers and startup founders. Tapping into programs like this may also be helpful. Then comes the actual matching process. In order to determine the individual is right for you as a mentor, the following questions may help:

  • Does my mentor listen to me?
  • Does my mentor empathize with me?
  • Is it hard to explain what I do to my mentor?
  • Can this person actually give me actionable advice and then keep me accountable?
  • Are they senior enough that I am inspired yet care to share relatable experiences with me?

 The last step is to evaluate honestly whether the relationship is something you want to pursue.

  • Does your mentor show up to your meetings?
  • Are they present and provide undivided attention?
  • Do they follow up on actionable items?

What do you think makes a successful mentoring relationship?

There is no archetype for the perfect mentoring relationship. Some relationships evolve to be strictly professional. As a professional Mentor, the mentor supports the mentee in their career development, management situations they face and offer them coaching, tools, frameworks and any advice to help overcome their career related challenges. They help their mentee take necessary steps and help them make the biggest impact at their company and push them to develop professionally.

The other kind of mentoring that may evolve is a bit more involved where the mentor develops as a trusted professional advisor. They deeply understand the mentee’s career aspirations and context. They see a bit of themselves in their mentee and decide to invest more heavily in their professional development giving them longer term career advice and developing beyond the scope of the current mentor-mentee relationship. The last kind of mentoring relationship that may evolve is that of a long-term coach. This happens when the relationship transcends professional boundaries and the mentor is devoted to commit to the mentee’s personal development as well as professional growth. This requires extreme vulnerability and commitment from both the mentor and mentee and oftentimes helps the most in terms of long term development of the mentee.

What are the benefits of having a mentor?

Below are some out of the countless benefits of having a mentor:

  • Mentors can help build your network and do relevant introductions when needed
  • Learning the nuances of workplace culture and career development
  • Gaining confidence and validation because you have someone to support and listen to you
  • Mentors also offer new perspectives which come in handy when solving problems
  • Get advice and guidance from experts on soft skills and technical skills
  • Improve confidence level and feel empowered by learning from others
  • Meet colleagues from different companies, teams and build wider relationships
  • Have open, direct and honest conversations without the risk of burning bridges

How do you know if you’re ready to be a mentor?

There is no true sense of when you are perfectly ready to be a mentor. There is a certain natural progression that happens in your life where you are ready to give to others and help empower others so they do not end up in situations like you did where you may have had no support. Thoughts will probably enter your head like “what if I had a mentor?”. That is the right moment to be a mentor. The rest of the skills that you need to be a mentor: communication, empathy, leadership etc all can be nurtured as you connect with more and more people and share your learnings and stories. Being a mentor also means you are learning every single day from your mentees on how to become better at listening and influencing. It’s a constant evaluation of your skills so jumping in and volunteering to be a mentor is more important than evaluating if you are ready or not or when you will be ready.

Do you think people need to have a specific goal in mind when working with a mentor?

Yes absolutely. Mentees should go into all the sessions with questions for their mentor. The mentor-mentee relationship is as valuable as the questions that the mentee is able to ask the mentor. Asking creates vulnerability and provides the safe space to get the questions answered. Beyond questions, mentees should work out specific goals of what they can derive from the relationship and where they would like to take the relationship. They can then steer the conversation accordingly.

On the other hand, mentees should also be transparent about these goals so their mentor knows what they can help with vs not. Setting realistic expectations on both ends will greatly help build a strong foundation. It’s also important that mentees be vulnerable, honest, and open to new perspectives as their mentor is sharing their own lessons that they learnt the hard way. Following up over email or next call on how the mentee benefited or did not benefit from certain advice will also help the mentor grow and become more focused on offering more actionable advice catering to the mentee’s own personal situations.


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