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Relationships 101: A Recent Graduate’s Guide to a Successful Mentor/Mentee Relationship

During my time in the Baker Program at Cornell, I was able to choose a formal Mentor that is a leader in the real estate field for the tenure of my graduate education.  While initially overwhelming, with a choice of 50 of the top leaders in the industry, I chose David Rupert, the President of Griffin Capital, a rapidly-growing investment and asset management firm given his background and alignment with my career interests.

Aditya Didolkar (BA ’07, MBA ’16, Baker ’16) handles real estate acquisitions, dispositions, and asset/portfolio management for Stoltz Real Estate Partners in the Greater Philadelphia Area. Prior to working in real estate, Aditya was a Senior Consultant at Deloitte.

Over the course of my graduate education, perhaps to a greater degree than most of my classmates, I took advantage of my mentorship opportunity and scheduled regular, most often once-a-month calls. David provided feedback on questions I had, as well as insight and advice that I hadn’t even thought about. Our conversations also provided me opportunity to keep him apprised of my status as a student, and soon as a job candidate. I found the relationship one of the most valuable aspects of my time in graduate school, and I still keep in touch with David to this day.

I am writing this blog today to share some lessons learned for a successful Mentor/Mentee relationship…what I found that worked well, and a few others I believe one should avoid.

What works well:

  • Choose your Mentor carefully: This one is easier said than done. A good Mentor/Mentee relationship is predicated upon having a good fit with your Mentor, but that can be difficult to know upfront. I found that finding a Mentor that aligns with your career interests is helpful as a first cut.  While I was very fortunate that I clicked with my Mentor almost immediately, if you find that you and your Mentor are not really compatible, I believe it is OK to change.  This is a professional courtesy, and will help avoid having both sides feeling that this is a waste of each other’s time.
  • Be respectful of your Mentor’s time: The reality is your Mentor has a full time job leading a major organization; his/her time is usually scarce, so with the time you do get, understand the Mentor is taking time out of their busy schedule to speak with you, so make the most of it! To that end, here are 4 things that I found helped me/us:
    1. Schedule meetings well in advance and have it in their calendar: I was fortunate that I had a very responsive Mentor and so it was easy to know what time would work best–we agreed on having monthly calls, and after finding a day/time that worked best, I sent out a recurring Outlook invite. Also, while your Mentor may have thought that a particular time/day worked well two months prior, things inevitably come up–I used to follow up the day before to see if we needed to reschedule, and at the very start of the meeting, always asked if this was still a good time.  In addition, things may also come up on your end and that is fine–give adequate notice beforehand that you will not be able to attend the meeting and ask to reschedule.
    2. Do your homework and distribute an agenda beforehand: This will not only keep the conversation focused, it will also force you to think through what you want to talk about, which is valuable in itself. Distributing an agenda beforehand, ideally one that’s not too long, will also give your Mentor some time to think about responses and provide thoughtful feedback.
    3. Stick to the agenda: My background was in management consulting, so PowerPoint was my life–I always had a ppt presentation, but for most, using a PPT deck for every call is overkill and not necessary provided you are able to verbally communicate what you want to discuss. Stick to your agenda and it will lead to a productive conversation. If there are items that come up during the conversation that are outside of the agenda but you want to explore and time is limited, schedule a follow up at a later time to discuss those items specifically.
    4. Thank your Mentor for their time and advice: At the end of the day, your Mentor is volunteering their time out of their busy schedule–always thank them for their time, and if you found particular pieces of advice helpful, let your Mentor know–it will not only show that you are taking their advice seriously, but also you are finding it helpful, and will keep your Mentor engaged and provide validation that he/she is not wasting his/her time.
  • Never assume your Mentor remembers every detail you talked about previously: As you continue your relationship with your Mentor, realize It is not your Mentor’s full time job to remember every single detail that you have previously discussed–as a courtesy, start meetings with a very brief summary of what was discussed last time.
  • Put in the effort–this is a two way street: While there will be a significant differential in experience between you and your Mentor, this does not mean the Mentor has to lead every conversation–in fact, the meeting will be more productive if you have done your homework prior to a meeting with your Mentor, have pertinent discussion points prepared, and can lead and walk through those points.

What to avoid:

  • Don’t ask for a job: Networking 101 dictates that you don’t ask for a job from the person you are speaking with–this is no different. This is networking upwards, and keeping conversations toward explaining career interests and soliciting career advice are incredibly helpful–if it does happen that there is an opening at your Mentor’s firm, that’s great, but that is the exception versus the norm–don’t expect that to be the case and don’t ask for a job during your meetings.
  • Don’t overwhelm with information: Know what you want to get out of your meetings with your Mentor–this is not a time for a data dump whereby you expect your Mentor to make sense of everything for you. It is OK to soundboard to understand the proper direction to take, but make sure you have done your homework and know what items you want further input on–overwhelming your Mentor with information can lead to a scatterbrained conversation that will lead to both sides scratching their heads.
  • Don’t miss/be late for a scheduled appointment: This should be a “goes without saying” item, but always be on-time for your meeting, and in those instances you have to miss a meeting for whatever reason, let your Mentor know as soon as possible and look for a time to reschedule. I’ve found my Mentor to be very accommodating in this respect.

While this is certainly not a definitive list of things that one should do/not do, it is a list I have found helpful.  Also, realize, this is a relationship, and your Mentor is human–not everything has to be professional and it is ok to have a beer with your Mentor every once in a while.