Paying it forward! Not just a cheesy movie starring lil baby Haley Joel Osment anymore!
Before I got my first big-kid job, I benefited from three different internships. The super kind, super dedicated, and super patient people who supervised me at these internships had an incredible impact on my education and career. I’ll never know why they put up with me, I’m just grateful they did.
So when I got that big-kid job, I knew I needed to start an internship program for the company. My work ethic and on-the-job know-how had been shaped by my mentors, and I felt the best tribute to these kind people (all of whom I’m still in touch with to this day) was to pay it forward.
I’ve had dozens of interns over the course of my career. And Kitty is part of her company’s professional mentorship program. By our powers combined, we’ve got loads of advice on how to be a good mentor—and more importantly, how to be a good mentee.
This week’s question
Today’s question comes to us from an anonymous Tumblr follower. They ask:
I have been offered a mentorship opportunity at my place of employment, and I am looking for advice on how to make the most of it as the mentee. I am actively working at taking a more proactive role in my career and financial situation as I have a bad habit of underselling myself and my time. One of these days I will be a boss bitch, and this is a ladder step for me to get there. Any tips would be greatly appreciated!
For more on the topic of being a good mentee and navigating the work place:
- How I Chessmastered Myself Into a Promotion at Work
- Common Job Interview Questions and How to Answer Them with the Confidence of a Mediocre White Dude
- How NOT to Determine Your Salary
- Ask the Bitches: My Boss Won’t Give Me a Contract and I’m Freaking Out
- The Actually Helpful, Nuanced, Non-Bullshit Way to Choose a Future Career
- A Millennial’s Guide to Growing Your Salary
We rely solely on our patrons to keep us alive and kicking. If you’re enjoying season two of the podcast, it’s all because of them. So a big thank-you to our Patreon donors! In exchange for their support, we gift our patrons with all kinds of exclusive Bitch content—24/7 Q&A support, exclusive merchandise, the occasional video of us doing dumb shit, and polls on future article topics every month. If you want to become a patron of Bitches Get Riches, head on over to our Patreon page!
Episode transcript (click to reveal)
We would like to thank our Patreon donors. So this time, thanks to Kelly, JS, Caitlin and Carrie. And an extra special thanks to Noah and Tina. Noah and Tina have flawless hair at all times and perfectly clear skin.
I do know that about them. Yeah, it’s true. I’ve noticed, jealously.
We have a new Patreon donor who is deaf. And she sent me a question that is specific to looking for jobs while deaf, which, spoiler alert, is incredibly challenging and discouraging. It made me really happy to receive that question, though, because I actually minored in hearing and deafness. That wasn’t really my plan. I just took a sign language course in college as a total whim, and I loved it so much that every semester thereafter I was like — I have to have at least one course in this because it was just so much fun.
Taught me a skill that I’d never would have learned otherwise. Taught me so much about communicating, not just in American Sign Language but how to use your body, your face, your voice, your eyelines to communicate, and it’s also made me a lot better at communicating with folks who don’t share a language with me. It’s just super, super rewarding.
So I was really happy to get that question, and it just kind of reminded me to plug — if anyone has questions that they would like to hear answered in an ASL video, I will try my best. Please keep it to like second grader level complexity in your question, such as, which way to the library?
¿Donde está la biblioteca?
I want to point out that in the time it took you to say that, I just logged on to our Patreon. We have a second deaf patron.
(gasp) We do not.
Basically said that he was really happy that the first thing he saw as a new patron was your ASL message on our homepage.
I love it. That’s so exciting. That makes me so happy.
Aw, you’re so cute when you’re excited.
This lights a fire under my butt to make sure that we get podcast transcripts out because that’s something we’ve struggled with in the past. It’s just the two of us, and we only have so many hours in the day.
But I think you and I are all aboard the accessibility train.
We’ll figure it out.
Anyway, I’m Kitty.
And I’m Piggy.
And we’re the bitches in Bitches Get Riches.
We’re the adorable and charming animal companions to your Disney Princess.
And we’re here to provide comedic relief when you sing about your hopes and dreams, which are going to be dashed.
Our time on this planet is limited.
So let’s get started.
An anonymous reader says, “I have been offered a mentorship opportunity at my place of employment, and I’m looking for advice on how to make the most of it as the mentee. I’m actively working at taking a more proactive role in my career and financial situation, as I have a bad habit of underselling myself and my time. One of these days I will be a boss bitch. And this is a ladder step for me to get there. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.”
Thank you so much for choosing this question.
(sing song) You’re welcome.
I have a lot of mentees at my (fancy accent) high-powered, corporate job, (normal voice) business executive realness job where I pretend to be a normal adult. And I cannot tell you how much frustration I have had, as the mentor when my mentees are just clearly lost. And they are lost in a way that ends up wasting my time and makes me less likely to be able to help them.
This is rich, fertile land, which we may seed and water with our wisdom.
Indeed, and I was the internship coordinator at my old job for many years, so I have a laundry list of things you should not do as a mentee at work. So I’m just gonna bring all that frustration to the conversation here, to make sure people don’t make the same mistake as accidental misogynist boy, or pajama girl.
Oh my god, classic characters from the Bitches Get Riches pantheon.
(laughing) Classic characters.
I think the number one thing is that a lot of them have not had experience with a mentor-mentee relationship. They’ve had experiences of being with someone who is in their direct sort of chain of command. Like a teacher.
Teacher, or a parent. Or a coach.
Yeah, but really having a relationship with someone who doesn’t grade you or judge you or have any impact on your life, but is just there to help you think a little bit more constructively about your current situation? I do think that that’s kind of rare, and so I think it’s kind of understandable that a lot of folks are maybe 23 years old and have a mentor for the first time and think, “Oh, I should be talking to you like you’re my manager, or my teacher, or my parent, right?”
Which is wrong. Please don’t do that.
No, it’s frustrating because not only is it the first sort of mentor-mentee relationship a lot of young people have had, but it’s also their first job a lot of times. Again, I’m coming from this point of view of an internship coordinator. And a lot of the trouble that I saw young people get into was just not knowing how professional work situations function.
So I know I referenced pajama girl already. And she’s also referenced in the classic Bitches Get Riches article, “What to Wear (and What Not to Wear) to a Job Interview”. And she was assigned to me, so I didn’t get to choose her. So she shows up for her first day, and she’s dressed pretty casually, but as the semester goes on, she clearly literally just rolls out of bed and shows up in my office.
And granted, it’s a pretty casual office. I wore jeans most days, but I wore jeans and a blouse. And I showered, and I combed my hair. There’s one day she literally showed up in pajamas and Birkenstocks. And she had food in her hair.
(gasp) I didn’t know about the food in the hair. Or rather, I’m sure you’ve told me about it, but my brain was like … please don’t hold on to this information. It’s too upsetting.
I don’t know if it was like a crumb of a bagel or something, but it was near her mouth area. Her hair was framing it … I had to be like, “Girl, this is my place of business.”
Girl, wash your face!
Hey, definitely. Anyway, the point being, she just assumed that if she could roll out of bed and go to class like that, she could go to my place of business like that. And I had to be like, “Please leave. Go home today.”
(aggressive voice) “And think about what you’ve done.”
You know, the most professional situation she had ever been in was a college lecture hall, and she wasn’t thinking about how her appearance reflected on me and reflected on the company. And if somebody had came in who mattered, a client, for example, or an author in this case, she would not have represented us well.
And I’m just going to chalk that up to inexperience there.
What that anecdote illustrates, to me, is the first tenet of the mentor-mentee relationship is to be respectful of your mentor’s time. I think you need to understand that when you are a mid-level or a high-level person within a company, you have a lot of things competing for your time.
So, for me, it’s important to make time for my mentees. I will work late to meet my deadlines to also squeeze in a meeting with a mentee. But what’s frustrating is when that mentee comes to this meeting that I’ve worked hard to set aside and defend this time for them … and they don’t use that time well.
So I think there’s a basic question that a lot of younger folks might have about like … “What am I supposed to be doing with you? What is a good, productive way to spend half an hour with your mentor? Like …. what?”
And I think the question that always comes to my mind that someone who used to mentor me would ask is, “How can I help you? What can I do to help you?” It’s a great question, and to me, it really encapsulates the mentor-mentee relationship.
I use my mentors to talk through the problems that I’m not ready to talk to my manager about yet, but I’ve been having a conflict with a coworker. Can I tell you about it, and get your perspective on what you think I should do? Or, I’m kind of frustrated that I feel like I’ve been stuck in the same role for the past couple of years, and I’m ready for something new, but I don’t think my boss seems that interested in promoting me.
How do I position myself? Or, I’m interested in a role on a different team that’s open right now, how do I navigate the awkwardness of telling my boss that I would love to interview for a role with someone else?
Almost like a therapist, but not dealing with personal problems, dealing with business problems.
Absolutely. And I also want to point out, part of the purpose of mentor-mentee relationships in the workplace is … it’s kind of a pay it forward situation.
I had three internships before my first “real” job out of college. And those internships were incredibly valuable to me, and I am thankful to this day for the people who mentored me in those internships. And who took the time to make sure I was successful and I was asking the right questions. And just being useful and that I would have somebody on my resume where they would not only remember me, but would say, and she did a good job.
It’s a pay it forward situation, but the mentor doesn’t have to be doing it. So unlike your high school teachers who are paid to be there. Not well, but still paid to be there. And you are required to be there as well. It’s not a requirement. The mentor is volunteering to mentor you. Take it seriously.
Because, they’re going to be the people who are going to be your references for your first job. The last thing you want is for them to be unwilling to be a reference or to be like … “Uhh, who?”
Other than to show up on time without bagels in your hair. I think you really only have to do one thing, when you’re going into a meeting with your mentor, which is to come to them ready to articulate a problem that you have. Your real role as the mentee is to bring me, as your mentor, a problem that I can help you solve.
And if you come with no agenda, with nothing, and you expect me to guide the conversation? That’s when I feel like my time isn’t being used well because I’m like, “Oh, clearly you already have everything figured out, and you don’t need me. Or you were told by your boss to like do this, I’ve arranged for you to have a mentor.”
Like, I don’t want to be in that situation any more than you do. So if that means I could get a few hours back every month to work on other things, I’m fine with that. I don’t need that.
If you don’t have anything like that, go ahead and cancel that week’s or that month’s meeting. I can’t tell you what a joy it is when I’ve got four or five meetings on my calendar every single day, and I get one of them canceled. I’m like, “Yee haw. Please, if you truly don’t have anything to talk about, feel free to cancel, and if you feel like you’ve gotten as much out of that mentoring relationship as you can, feel free to say like, ‘I’m gonna move this from once a week or once a month cadence to an at need,’ which is a nice corporate business the way of saying, ‘I don’t need to hang out with you to put training wheels on my problems anymore. I’m just going to call you when I need you.'”
Yeah, that’s a beautiful thing.
I think that gets to the larger issue of being a mentee means not wasting your mentor’s time. And I would actually take it a step further and say that if you don’t have a problem in your career that you need to discuss with your mentor, you can also just ask questions about them.
One of the most frequently answered questions that I’ve done with my interns is, “How did you get your first job in the publishing industry?” That’s something that young people who are struggling in the early phase of their career want to know. But they also ask questions about how to negotiate contracts and various other aspects of my job that they haven’t had to do yet, but they might eventually. And they want to go in not completely blind.
So even if you don’t have a problem, just ask for information. Keep them talking. They are a fount of experience and information for you. And that’s not something that can be wasted.
And again, they’re going to be happy to do it. They’re choosing to be there for you. So, as long as you’re not wasting their time being like, “What’s your favorite color?”, they’re gonna want to be there for you and answer those questions.
Yeah, a lot of my mentees are recent graduates from historically black colleges, all of whom are black themselves. I think one of the reasons that people send them my way for mentoring opportunities is that they know that I’m someone who will listen. And who understands concepts like microaggressions and code switching. Like understanding how to work your way through some of those more sensitive frustrations.
The thing is, when you come to your boss, your regular day-to-day manager with a problem, we tend to try to coach people to like always come with the solution. Like, “Oh, I am having a problem with this process. These reports take too long, so what if I took a couple of days to make an automated reporting system?”
Bam, there’s your problem and your solution. That’s a great way to use your manager. With your manager, you want to avoid coming with problems that you haven’t thought through any kind of solution to. That ends up making you look like maybe you lack problem solving abilities. Your mentor is someone who you have much more freedom with, to say like, “I am very frustrated by this person or this process.”
And usually, if you are in a situation where you have a bit of a unique voice within your company. If you are, say, the only woman on your team or the only person of color, or the only young person, try to see if you can find someone who really understands that perspective or at least respects that perspective to help guide you through it. Because I cannot imagine an experience more frustrating than if I were say, a young woman of color, talking to a guy who can’t relate to any of those experiences and thinks that the solution to everything is hard work.
Yeah. When that’s definitely not the case for a lot of people.
That would that would drive me away from all human contact. I’d go live in the woods.
Okay so, to go back to your point about how it’s safer to ask a mentor about certain things than a boss or a coworker in a professional situation. I think it’s a good way to practice too. You can have a mock job interview with your mentor. You can have a mock discussion of asking for a raise. Of if you’re having a problem at work, you can go to your mentor and say, “Hey, I need to address this with my boss or my HR director or something. Can we role play through the situation, and can I pitch some ideas off of you of how I handle the situation in conversation with the real person I’m going to be talking to?”
That level of trust can’t be overstated, and it’s also a wonderful way to have a dress rehearsal for real job stuff. And most of what I end up doing is giving them feedback on how they’re doing.
I leave the last five minutes to tell them, “You really sucked at answering this question, and you need to make eye contact more and stuff like that.” But it’s the kind of thing that young people, or mentees in general, just aren’t going to get from the real life situation. So, you need to be open to that feedback from a mentor, and you need to be willing to take some harsh feedback, sometimes.
Yeah, I think that one of the best ways, other than being respectful of your mentor’s time, is to build that really strong advocacy relationship with your mentor. Especially if they’re something who’s higher up in the company than you are, or really respected in the industry. Whereas you’re a newcomer.
Show them that I’m listening to you, and I’m going to try your advice. Ideally, you should be talking to this person because you think that they honestly have good ideas and good insights. And it thrills me when I have a conversation with a mentee where we’re talking through some issue that they’re working on, and then I get to talk to them again two weeks later and they say, “So I did what you advised, and it worked out really great.”
That fills my whole chest with a warm sensation that normally would probably make me call 911, but I know is actually pride. Its pride. I’m very happy that I was able to help that person and that they respected me enough to try the things that I suggested. So that’s a lovely, lovely relationship to have.
I mean, I feel like that slight heart-swelling feeling is the whole reason why we run this blog, right?
Yeah, that’s it.
It really is.
And sweet .gifs.
Sweet, sweet gifs.
I need a place to put all these sweet .gifs.
We really do.
Are you good with that?
I am good with that.
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Hey, uh, is there anything else that you should know?
Any film historian will tell you that the greatest streak of films that an actor’s ever been in was Tom Hanks from 1992 to 2002.
Good to know.
Piggy & Kitty 21:05