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A mentoring relationship can be one of the most important of your career, whether you’re the mentor or mentee. When you’re starting your work together, it’s important to establish clear goals and objectives. This will help you set the course for the next few months — and even years — to come. After all, even if you mesh well together (and hopefully you do), it’s still important to have an agenda and something toward which you’re working.

How do you set mentee goals and objectives? Here are five important steps to keep in mind for a successful woking relationship, whether you’re the mentee or mentor.

5 steps to setting mentee goals.

1. Consider both short- and long-term goals.

What is your mentee hoping to gain? When discussing her goals, it’s important to establish both long- and short-term objectives. The shorter-term goals can be seen as steps or benchmarks along the road toward reaching her longer-term aspirations. 

Make sure your mentee is able to articulate and define her goals clearly. This is important for your work together. Then, assess how she might achieve the big picture. For example, perhaps she wants to ultimately become the director of a marketing team. What benchmarks might she want to reach along the way? It could be taking the lead on a specific project or campaign or taking on certain responsibilities outside of her job description.

2. Be realistic.

Don’t hold back. If you (as a mentee) want to achieve something in your career, you should do your absolute best to get there. And a mentor should be there to coach the mentee along the way.

Still, it’s important to make sure these mentee goals align with reality. Does the mentee have the necessary skills — and if not, are there concrete ways to acquire them? Will time allow it? What obstacles might stand in her way? These are the types of questions a mentor and mentee should discussing together when formulating goals.

Moreover, they should create a timeline that includes benchmarks (the aforementioned short-term goals) that makes sense in terms of resources available, what the goals are and other factors. Success doesn’t happen overnight, so the mentee must recognize what’s a realistic time frame and what’s not.

3. Work together.

While the mentee will need to do much or all of the legwork toward achieving her goals — they are her goals after all, not the mentor’s — the mentor and mentee should work together initially to established and create a plan for achieving them. The mentor can provide guidance and assess what’s achievable and how to attain these aspirations, while the mentee will set the agenda and articulate her objectives in the first place. Moreover, the mentor can help set clear benchmarks along the way to success.

Part of this point involves making the most of every session you have together and ensuring you have a structured agenda in place. Neither of you wants to waste your time, after all. Make sure you know what you want to discuss. The mentor should also strive to find ways to engage the mentee, while the mentee should have specific questions and items she’d like to cover.

4. Use the SMART method.

SMART stands for:

Specific

Measurable

Attainable

Relevant

Time-bound

Many professionals use this method to set goals. For every objective, you’ll need to assess these qualities to create a clear path for meeting it.

For example, let’s say the mentee wants to change industries. A SMART plan might look like this:

Specific goal: changing from marketing to graphic design

Measurable goal: landing an entry-level job in graphic design without taking a substantial pay cut and being able to afford my lifestyle

Attainable goal: assess entry-level salaries in the graphic design field to determine the financial feasibility of this plan; revise resume and consult with a friend in HR about it

Relevant goal: feeling more fulfilled at work and being able to use a skill set I haven’t nurtured in my current role

Time-based: send out X number of applications each day and land Y number of interviews by Z date 

5. Measure progress.

Measurement is part of your SMART goal-setting. However, you should also measure the progress of your relationship to determine whether it’s helping the mentee achieving her goals; that’s the whole point of this relationship, after all.

Establish how frequently you’ll check in to assess how you’re each doing, and stick to this schedule. This is important for the mentor as well as the mentee. You want to make sure you’re both on the same page and feeling like this relationship is meeting your needs and expectations. When you have these check-ins, assess how the mentee’s goals are coming along and how you’re both feeling about the relationship in general. Establish the questions you’ll address during these check-ins upfront so no one is surprised later on.

Questions might include:

• How is the mentee doing with her goals? Has she achieved the established benchmarks?

• What’s going well?

• What could be improved?

• What could the mentee and mentor do differently to improve the relationship?

You should both answer these questions and have an honest dialogue.

Mentee goals and objectives: The bottom line

A mentor-mentee relationship can lead to positive changes and growth for both people involved, but it’s important to establish the desired outcomes upfront. Have a productive conversation in your first session to determine what the mentee hopes to ultimately gain from your work together; this will add structure to your sessions and help guide your discussion. 

You’re both busy people, so it’s essential to make every minute count and be as productive as possible. Being honest and specific and mapping out what the mentee wants in her career, as well as creating a step-by-step plan for how to get there, will lead to a fruitful mentor-mentee relationship.

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