We’ve all become Zoom experts this year. Video technology shrinks the physical distance between us, offering new possibilities for connection. Video platforms allow you to connect with mentors to boost your career growth. And there’s never been a greater need for mentorship — especially for folks in HR. As COVID-19 accelerates the pace of workplace changes, mentorships not only lay the groundwork for your long-term goals but also support your ability to pivot in your current role.
Virtual mentorships empower you to collaborate with your mentor to close the gaps in your professional development. An online mentorship is an easier lift for a mentor to fit into their schedule, so you have a better chance of scoring an advisor who you look up to — and who can help you navigate to the next level.
For most of us, virtual mentorships are still uncharted territory. Here are some best practices for making the most of your virtual mentorship.
Make a Mutual Commitment
Asking someone to mentor you is asking them to make a commitment of time and energy to your professional growth. Virtual mentorships streamline the commitment, so the bulk of that energy is focused on productive conversations. Traditional, in-person mentorships include a commute to and from a physical location, requiring a broader time commitment. Virtually, you and your mentor can meet wherever you are.
Leverage increased accessibility to increase actual face-time with your mentor since a successful mentorship is a relationship first, suggests HR.com Chief Learning Officer Heidi Scott. “To develop a true mentorship takes a number of months,” she points out. The improved accessibility of a virtual mentorship allows for more frequent check-ins so you can accelerate that connection.
Be specific about what your mutual commitment entails. Set a timeline and put shape to it, Scott says. Collaborate on an informal contract, laying out how frequently you’ll meet and setting up basic ground rules, suggests Nancy J. Lewis, owner and CEO at Progressive Techniques, Inc. How often will you meet, for example? Will you always use video calls, and is using the camera important? What’s the policy on asking questions between sessions? Answering these questions ahead of time puts guardrails on the relationship and allows you to find the right rhythm that both you and your mentor can commit to.
Engage in Authentic Dialogue
Bringing your best self to each meeting and engaging in authentic dialogue is essential for making the most of your mentorship. If someone you look up to has agreed to devote time to support you, take those meetings seriously. Prepare for the call beforehand, Lewis says, and consider using digital tools like Google Docs to share notes or thoughts leading up the meeting.
Minimize distractions when video chatting. It’s easy to stray to other browser windows or check emails during a video call. To curb these distractions, shut your notifications off for the duration of your call. And since you’ll probably log in from home, be sure to let family members know that you need some quiet time.
Make the most of your call by listening well and opening yourself to vulnerability. “You’re only going to maximize mentorship if you have the courage to ask meaningful questions,” Scott says. “If you think you know everything, then you aren’t ready for mentorship.”
Leverage video platforms to record your conversations so you can go back to review them later. This ensures that you don’t miss anything and allows you to be fully engaged in each call. If you do take notes, try using a shared document that both you and your mentor can access. Use the platform’s chat feature to share links instantly to organizations or programs for professional development.
Collaborate on an Action Plan
After virtual calls with your mentor, don’t close the browser window and forget about what you talked about until your next meeting. Designate the last 5-10 minutes of each call to collaborating on a viable, actionable plan to reach your goals. Use screen sharing, a shared document or other collaborative tools to develop smaller goals and create checklists for actions to move the needle on your professional development.
Don’t hang up until both you and your mentor have a concrete plan for your next step, Scott says. This could be as simple as attending a webinar and demonstrating, in your next call, how what you learned helps you close the gaps in your professional development. Your action plan should be concrete and tangible. If you can’t put it on the calendar and follow through on it, you need to get more specific.
Over the course of several meetings, you and your mentor will see trends in your development, Lewis points out. “Next time you get together, you’ll report on what happened or what you learned,” she says. “When you report your progress, we can see if there's been any movement in the right direction.”