As I have experienced before, a good mentor is important for a new employee, especially for the undergraduated who just come out from school and join the work force. Different from that we learn by ourselves, to be a mentor for someone and give him advice and support is another difficult problem. I’ve also asked several of my friends, they give me some of their experience as a mentor. When it comes to me, I think it’s useful to write things down to record the way to be a good mentor. Because of my work, I mainly refer to the mentor in an IT company.
To interview candidate
It may be useful if you have chance to interview your candidate. Although this is somewhat far from the topic here, I think it’s useful to communicate with a candidate before he finally become your intern or colleague.
Make sure the candidate matches the job you are hiring or he have the ability to do what you want him to do. And more importantly, let him know what you are doing, too. Do not hide or exaggerate anything as long as it’s not classified.
Tell him the big picture first
Real work is full of details, of course. But they must not be presented at the very beginning. As we are convinced he knows the essential skills for the job, we are not in that hurry to let him do the work. And I’ve also met some mentor who assign small project to new people, which may depend less on other modules and is suitable for one to start. But, still, we are not in that hurry.
Tell him the big picture for our work. Start from the main business of our work. What the architecture is simply like, what resources do we have, and what things are covered by our team or other teams’ work. People can easily understand problems from the top-down view.
Use simple words, and also let him know you are not skipping important things, they are just not the key point.
Knows what he needs
Interns often have some desires. They may hope to learn something through his work. Unfortunately, work and projects always follow the development of business. We must know his need. Perhaps he has to do the thing to complete his paper in school to graduate, for example. Then we can try to assign some related work to help him achieve his goal.
If one doesn’t have a solid background on a topic, then a company will put him at another proper position within his ability, which may be not that good as he want. That a mentor tells him this very thing is necessary, too.
It is the mentor that find the balance between project needs and a personal desire.
Procedures of a project he must know
An undergraduate often knows less about real world project compared to other skilled men and the mentor himself. Sometimes the little new colleague will come up with some idea that is far from reality, which may be still good. New ideas may come out from one’s scholar background, previous working experience or something he reads recently. New ideas are great, but we have to build the first floor before the second and the third.
When we are doing a project, it is really import to analyze the project and break it down. After the project is turned to a sequence of feasible procedures, everybody envolved can pick something to do on his own. It’s important to let him know what we are doing, and what we must focus on. When a project is fixed down, do not forget the goal we are moving forward to and turn to do any other thing that seems within ones hand and just needs very little work. Often these small work will eat up one’s energy, which may lead the main project’s delay or import hidden defects.
These should be conveyed clearly from a mentor.
Communicate rather than educate, trust him and earn his trust
Talk about other things outside of work, too. Topics like hometown, restaurant nearby, schools will help you understand both. A mentor is equal to a new man as a staff. So a mentor is not help someone to study, but help him to join the team and burn his smart quickly.
And exchange of thoughts is also in both direction. Try to use words like “one method I can now come out with is that …”, “what can you think about this problem”. Make him feel like (and actually it is) you two are discussing equally and you are not sending him commands.
Be patient, and ask questions at time
This point is trival. As a new person is far less familliar with the business than a mentor, you may need to repeat one or two times about some details inside your work. Be patient to ask what he is confusing about and answer his questions which may seem silly to you. But you’d better not to repeat more than two times of the very same thing. But if he asks that much, try to think about whether you give him enough background information. And give some time to tell him how to find his answer from the current work or documents.
People are different. Different ideas will come out when the same thing comes to different people, especially for those who just start to think about the problem. Despite his possible repetition of questions, he may be thinking the same thing in a complete different way than you. As a mentor and colleague, if you realize in what way he is thinking, stand on his side and accept his method.
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