How to be mentored

How to be mentored

By Rachel Segal Hamilton IdeasTap 21/11/12

Not only do they receive a cool £30,000 funding, Sky Arts Ignition: Futures Fund winners are also matched with a mentor. Here, mentees and a mentor trainer share tips for making the most of the experience… 

Find the right mentor for you 

Every mentoring relationship is unique; identify the right person and the right approach for you. “Do your research beforehand and find out what the mentor can offer you – and what they can’t,” advises Lyn Hartman, a former BBC radio producer now working as a coach, who trains mentors.

Your mentor might be someone higher up in the same creative industry as you, who can share their experience and contacts; they might be an expert from another sector who can help you skill-up in an area you’re unfamiliar with, such as business planning or PR. Or, as Lyn points out, “they may be a facilitative coach-mentor who’s more of a sounding board.” She goes on: “Some mentors work with chief executives – they don’t want someone telling them how to run their business; they want a person who’s going to listen, ask questions, challenge them and help them to verbalise what’s going on in their head.” 

Remember, there’s no limit to the number of mentors you can have. If you need support in more than one aspect of your career, follow the advice of Australia’s DMG Radio Ideas Director Wade Kingsley: “Get a panel of people from various backgrounds and think of them as a board of directors of the company of you.”


Do your homework and be proactive 

“The mentoring process is a creative conversation but it’s goal-orientated, so you have to ask yourself, ‘What do I want to achieve through this process?’” says Lyn. “The mentee’s role is to set the agenda.” Be upfront with your mentor about how you want the relationship to work. Will you meet monthly for a coffee? Exchange emails fortnightly? Do you have a set timeframe for how long the relationship will last? Walk into that first session prepared to engage fully and honestly with the experience. Lyn again: “Be assertive. Don’t come away and think, ‘That session was useless’. Being mentored is an active, not a passive pursuit.”


Be true to yourself 

With the more facilitative type of mentoring, the mentor avoids giving you specific advice, instead helping you come to your own conclusions. But in other cases, there may be times when you want to ask your mentor for feedback on a course of action or piece of work. Do so with caution. “Sometimes you feel like you want to please [your mentor] and make them feel like they’re really helping you, but you should never compromise the aims or goals you have before you go into the meeting," says IdeasTap member Jasmine Hetherington Wilkes, who received mentoring through The Prince’s Trust when setting up her video-production company, Boko Creative. “It’s your business and it’s about what you want to do with it.” 

That said, don’t simply dismiss what your mentor has to say – reflect on it. “Sometimes it’s good to see someone else’s perspective even if you disagree with it, because you gain a better definition of what you are or where you want to be,” says IdeasTap member and musician Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian who has been a mentee through the Midi Music Company’s CICAS® scheme, as well as Arts Council England and the London Symphony Orchestra. “All feedback and discussion is constructive – you just have to make it that way.”


See things from your mentor’s perspective 

“Ask as many questions as possible, no matter how stupid you think they are,” says Cevanne. “I’ve held back from asking things that I thought would seem too obvious but I would always advise people to ask questions. Don’t be shy and bottle it up because if someone’s mentoring they really do want to help.” Make an effort to show your mentor that you appreciate what they’re doing for you. “Obviously the mentor should listen but the mentee should also listen, take notes and absorb everything they’re saying,” says Jasmine. “Never be rude because they’re giving up their time to help you and in today’s society everybody’s time is precious.”


Read more How to articles.

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Have you been mentored? What are your tips on getting the most out of the experience? Leave a comment below.

Would you like to win £30,000 to fund your artistic practice for a year? Apply for our Sky Arts Ignition: Futures Fund

Are you a performing arts practitioner in need of mentoring? Apply for our Project Mentoring brief.

Image: Tea break by fellowsisters on a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

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