Getting the most from a mentoring relationship

In this second blog in our mentoring women in technology series, we’ll talk about how technology professionals at any company can form valuable mentoring relationships to advance their career, build their skills, and grow their network.

Working with a mentor can be a powerful way to build your skills, advance your career, and develop a strong professional network. But what’s the best way to go about it? When you make a connection with a role model with time and insights to share, how do you get the most from the opportunity? In our last blog, we talked about why mentorship matters. Now we’ll explore how to make it productive. 

The first thing to understand is that the more you put into a mentorship, the more you’ll get out of it. That begins with having a clear idea of what you hope to achieve—the skills you want to develop, the perspectives you’re hoping to gain, and the guidance you feel that you need. 

Identifying areas of focus

“Areas that I want to be mentored on are typically things that I don’t feel that I’m good at, or that feel uncomfortable,” explains Bridget Kimball, former vice president, technology at Intuit. “For example, I’ve had experiences earlier in my career where I wasn’t very confident presenting to people. I knew that to move forward, I had to be able to speak in forums with leaders, have them understand what I’m saying, and have them believe in it. So, I talked to someone who was good at it, and they helped me learn how to be better prepared.” 

Crystal Robinson-Pipersburgh, group manager, data engineering, at Intuit, uses her day-to-day work experience as a guide. “As I gather feedback for the engineers who work for me, I also gather feedback on myself. If I have a project that didn’t go very well, I go back and ask my partners, customers, and the engineers that I work with for feedback. Using feedback can help you identify areas where you can look for mentoring.” 

Sometimes, what’s needed most is perspective. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to know every aspect of our tech stack down to the deepest level, but I realized recently through a conversation with my mentor that sometimes you don’t have to understand every single thing—you just have to understand why they’re there, why we use them, and what benefits that tool or product provides,” says Beryce Garcia, software engineer 2 at Intuit. 

By the same token, a mentor can’t be expected to understand every single thing about you. “No one person can mentor every aspect of your career,” says Denise McInerney, director of development at Intuit. “I try to set reasonable and realistic expectations for my mentoring relationships.” 

Being ready to work

A mentoring session can be far-ranging and informal, but it shouldn’t be entirely spontaneous. “Once you find a mentor, you do need to be prepared,” says Crystal. “When I found mine, I scheduled regular meetings with her. I came prepared with questions.” 

This can include doing homework between sessions. “In my early career, I had an amazing mentor who made me read books every single month and do exercises on my journey line or the specific skills I wanted to work on,” says Justyna Yung, modernize analytics leader at Intuit. “At the beginning I thought it was a little much, but now I’m grateful for that.” 

Being ready to work includes being willing to listen—and hear. “Being able to give and receive feedback, no matter what type of role you’re in, is super important, especially because it takes you outside of your own view,” says Kimbra Brookstein, global leader, Tech Women @ Intuit (TWI) and staff program manager, DEI in tech. “Others view your work and your strengths in different ways than you view them yourself. It’s important to continuously get feedback from different people, as you want to ensure diverse perspectives—you may discover something new that surprises you!” 

Giving as much as you get

Mentorship can and should be a two-way street. “Reverse mentorship is a common outcome,” says Kimbra. “Mentors learn just as much from their mentees. You’re both investing in each other, and hopefully, the value is found on both sides.” This has certainly been the case for Crystal: “I’ve also done mentoring, and I’m learning just as much from the mentee as I am sharing.” 

For a mentor, the value of the relationship can range from insight into the experience of more junior technologists and team members—whether they’re being effectively empowered and supported, structural challenges that might impede their effectiveness, the state of culture and morale in the organization’s ranks—to the satisfaction of living their ideals by helping and inspiring others. 
In our next blog, we’ll talk about the different types of mentors and where to find them. If you’re interested in exploring opportunities for mentorship as part of the Intuit organization, visit our Careers at Intuit site to find out how you can join our team.