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Developing a Mentoring Plan: Going from “No Idea” to “Building a Vision” By: Roger Cote


"Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Lewis Carroll—Alice in Wonderland.

Creating a practical plan for a mentoring relationship starts with building your vision. What do you hope to get out of a mentoring partnership? Providing clear descriptions of where you are going with your career will in turn help identify mentors who can optimize this journey. This vision then serves as the basis for developing a plan. But oftentimes, we find ourselves thinking, "I’m not sure where I want to go,” or "I don’t know what I don’t know,” or "Where do I start?” Lewis Carroll provides the idea for the first tip, and we’ll add a few more to get you started:

Begin at the beginning. It matters not where you are in your career; you had a starting point—a beginning. Most likely, that beginning had a job description, and you might even have had some career goals at that time. Check that description, those goals, and review what you’ve accomplished. As you check things off your list, what remains can be used as a new beginning for revealing your vision. Your performance reviews can also provide insight into your strengths along with areas needing improvement. Put aside any personal feelings you might have about them and use them as a starting point—a beginning.

Uncover opportunities. Review your job description (or perhaps one for another job of interest) to identify the competencies, knowledge, skills, and abilities required. Again, be objective. Which of these items can you check off your list, and which could you use some help improving? Perhaps you want to explore other career opportunities. If so, use similar resources to identify job elements that match your skills to give your exploration a starting point.

Look at your strengths and talents. Ask yourself if your natural talents are being used to their fullest potential. Are there opportunities to showcase your talents? How can you let others know that you would like to help out by applying your strengths and talents to their needs?

Uncover blind spots. Don’t worry about what you don’t know; start with what you do know that will point you towards areas and topics you want or need to learn more about. Ask for help. One of the
best ways to uncover blind spots is to ask your supervisor, manager, co-workers, or even someone you supervise for specific and useful feedback. "What am I doing that is holding me back?” or "What could I do to manage you better?” Write down those growth opportunities and thoughts until you finish with what you know. Before you know it, you’ll have the building blocks you need to create your mentoring plan.

Ask a Mentor

Developing a vision will greatly help you locate a mentor who is more suited to helping you achieve your mentoring goals.  It also serves as the beginning for defining your mentoring goals and strategy.  Bring it with you—along with anything else you discover in the interim—for your first meetings with your mentor.  They will help you ask questions such as:
  • What opportunities are available to develop skills I would like to build?
    • What kind of training is available?  
    • Should I consider formal/continuing education?
    • What about education assistance?
  • Can you help me learn more about my organization?
    • My current office or department?
    • Another office or department I work with (often or periodically)? 
  • Can we explore opportunities to work with offices or departments that could offer opportunities to collaborate?
  • Do you have any ideas about opportunities to leverage my current skills and talents to help others?
    • Internal organizational opportunities?
    • External/outreach opportunities? 
    • Do you have any thoughts about how we might discover and unlock my hidden talents?
The key "beginning” at this stage is starting the dialog with your mentor.  Open up and share what you know about yourself, your job, your organization, office, or department.  

Tell your mentor what you like about your current job, what you don’t like.  Share what you know about your interests, your goals, and your values.  

Every bit of information you provide at the beginning will help you and your mentor identify the elements that belong in your plan.  Then your mentor can help you learn more about what you don’t know.