I’ve said over and over on The Civil Engineering Podcast that every civil engineering professional should absolutely find a mentor as early on in their career as possible. However, I recently received a question from a young civil engineer asking, “What does the mentoring relationship look like?”
It’s a great question. And it needs to be answered in a forum like this so it can be easily shared, because I’m sure many civil engineers know that mentors can be helpful but don’t fully understand how a mentoring relationship is supposed to look.
I’ll assume for this post that you have found a mentor already, but if you haven’t, read this post first: Ask Anthony: Where Can I Find a Mentor?
1. Hold a kickoff meeting
I know, I sound like a true project engineer on this one, but an initial meeting is critical for getting to know each other and laying the groundwork for the mentoring relationship.
During this meeting you should discuss several items, including how often you will meet, how long the meetings will last and the structure of the meetings. You should also make it clear that you would like everything discussed between the two of you to remain confidential, as you may want to discuss things like conflicts in the workplace. You should also be clear with your mentor that you would like to be held accountable for what you say you’re going to do between meetings; otherwise the relationship may not provide the motivation you need to move you closer to your goals.
2. Set goals
You must take the time to set goals for the mentoring relationship early on, preferably during the kickoff meeting. You should create two to five things that you are looking to achieve through the work with your mentor. Whenever you are moving toward something specific, you tend to have more focus and motivation.
For example, some of these goals might be to:
• Develop a study plan for taking and passing the Principles and Practices of Engineering exam. I’m using the P.E. exam as an example because that is something I did.
• Create an outline with the steps you need to take to reach the “Project Manager I” level in your firm or something similar.
• Join and become active in a professional society.
3. Meet regularly
Consistency always wins, especially when you’re trying to improve something.
Even if you meet only once per month by phone, it will provide the structure necessary to ensure you get the assistance you need to move toward your goals.
4. Be prepared for your mentoring meetings
This means having questions ready and being prepared to discuss your actions and progress since the last meeting.
5. Ask open-ended questions
This is hugely important. Open-ended questions are questions that can’t be answered with a simple YES or NO.
So, for example, as opposed to asking, “I’m thinking about getting this degree or this certification, do you think it’s a good idea?” you could say, “I was thinking about getting this specific certification – do you think it’s a good idea or do you know of any other certifications I should look into as well?”
When you ask open-ended, you’re probably going to get more information.
6. Take good notes during and between your meetings
This one speaks again to being prepared. Keep a notepad on your desk at all times. Jot down questions or challenges that arise as you’re going through your career, day to day, so that when you meet with your mentor, you’ll have a list of really pertinent questions you can ask. This ensures that you are maximizing the relationship.
7. Be proactive
You don’t have to wait for your mentor to act on something, or ask you something. You should show up to your meeting with questions, or specific thoughts and ideas, and seek feedback on them. If you simply sit back, you’re going to fall behind, like with many things in life or career. So be proactive in order to maximize this relationship.
I hope these steps help you to shape your mentoring relationship into one that is productive and which creates a lasting impact on your civil engineering career!
Anthony Fasano, P.E., M.ASCE, is the founder of the Engineering Management Institute (previously known as the Engineering Career Coach), which has helped thousands of engineers develop their business and leadership skills. He hosts the Civil Engineering Podcast and he is the author of a bestselling book for engineers, Engineer Your Own Success. You can download a free video series on his website that will give you the tools needed to immediately improve your networking and communication skills by clicking here.
He has also started the Engineering Management Accelerator to help engineers become more effective managers: www.EngineerToManager.com.