If you’re reading this, you’re hungry for career improvement. And one of the best ways to amass experience quickly is to secure yourself a mentor who can guide you, lend you their expertise, and perhaps even offer access to their network.
But it’s not quite as simple as telling your manager that you’d like the assistance of a mentor.
If you’re ambitious, you’re going to have to try a great deal harder than that — not only to secure a top life science mentor but to get what you need out of the relationship without stumbling into one of the common pitfalls.
Know what you’re looking for in a mentor and communicate it.
There are many different types of mentors. If you’re just getting your start in pharma or medical device sales, you might only want a couple of coaching sessions to hone your pitch. If you’re a middle manager aspiring to the C-Suite, you’re going to want a very senior long-term mentor with C-Suite experience.
If you’re a new KOL about to present at conferences for the first time, you may simply need some coaching sessions on public speaking and working a room. Or perhaps you’ll want a sponsor arrangement, whereby a senior figure introduces you to their network and sponsors your admission to certain committees or clubs.
Be clear on what kind of mentoring you want. Is it long term, or short term? General advice, or skill- specific? What kind of time commitment do you want the mentor to make?
And remember, you don’t have to limit yourself to one mentor, there might be someone in another hospital department that can offer something entirely new to your skillset.
Choose someone who you admire, certainly, but also who you think you could emulate.
You might admire the Head of Medicine’s research papers enormously, but are they the right person to assist you? That depends on what their personal style is, and whether you like them and trust them.
You’ll be spending a lot of time with this person, so if you think they’re quite an angry person at times and you’re a nervous type, they might not be the right mentor for you.
Consider this: would you like to emulate this person—not only in their achievements but also in their character? That’s a great sign of a mentorship match.
Be specific and strategic about what you want to know
You’ve chosen a high-achieving mentor. They’re going to be busy, so you need to respect that and make the time you have with them count. When you commence the relationship, set out what you’d like to achieve, so they know what kind of advice to provide.
Go into each meeting with a list of questions you have, and don’t subject them to a barrage of long-winded emails in between meetings, or they’ll start to dread seeing your name pop up in their inbox.
Of course, they might not care for your precise agenda, and may regularly go ‘off-piste’ with a story about their own career, or some cautionary tale. To some extent, this is something you should simply accept and get the most out of, but if it becomes a habit that’s undermining the success of the mentorship, then you may want to consider other options.
Respect their time, above all else
You really don’t want to be wasting a mentor’s time; they are making a sacrifice of their time and energy for your career betterment. Do not squander it, or you will not only do yourself a disservice and offend the mentor, but you’ll diminish the chance the mentor will continue offering their services to other mentees after you.
Firmly control any defensiveness
You’ve asked a mentor for their expert advice. They give it. You get visibly offended, reject or ignore their advice, and the relationship sours. So many mentorships have ended badly over this.
Part of any career development process is learning how to accept advice and criticism from others. It can sting, certainly, but learning this skill in a mentorship relationship is every inch as important as any lofty introduction they can make on your behalf.
This is not to say you must accept their every suggestion. You don’t have to rewrite your paper to reflect their views or apply for a position you know isn’t right for you: they’re not infallible just because they’re a mentor. But you do have to show respect at every turn and learn the art of showing that you respect their feedback immensely but need to tread your own path on this (fairly rare) occasion.
If you want your mentor to be happy to see you, you need to show that you’re enthusiastic to be there and keen to soak up their knowledge. Always produce high-quality work and produce it when you said you would - or even earlier, ideally. If you want them to look at something you’ve done, whether a report or an application, give them plenty of time to do so.
Find a way to help them in return
While it may seem you don’t have that much to offer to someone really senior, you never know how you could be of service to them in return for their assistance. Is there a charity they’re involved with that you could donate to or volunteer some time? Does their child need a tutor? Would they appreciate another pair of eyes on their draft paper? The best mentor-mentee relationships are a two-way street.
Above all, the best way to thank a mentor and show your respect for their sacrifice is to turn around and offer someone else a hand up. It’s the decent thing to do, after all.
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