Mentoring: What questions should I be asking my mentor? [Student Edition]

If you are lucky to have a mentor relationship (see also How to find a mentor) frequently asked questions are how do I make the most of the opportunity and the mentoring relationship and what questions should I be asking them? The first thing to remember is that the mentoring is a two-way relationship. If your mentoring relationship is a student/solicitor relationship it may seem one-sided, and you may feel that you don’t have much to offer the solicitor, however, the solicitor will usually agree/offer to mentor you to ‘give something back’ and/or they enjoy building relationships. So they will expect you to ask questions. Don’t forget the mentoring relationship is an equal relationship.

Have a goal or objective and ask questions based on your goal

Think about what you would like your mentor to help and advise on or what you would like their encouragement with. By having a goal or objective that you want to achieve it can help drive your conversation and the questions that you ask. For example, you may be looking for a training contract, but depending on what stage you are in the process you may have different questions that you wish to ask to achieve a smaller goal or objective that you have set. For example – researching firms, preparing for a presentation etc.

Ask questions to help you find out more about your mentor and their background

Asking you mentor about themselves can take the pressure off you for a bit, it is great to have this conversation at your first face-to-face meeting. It helps if you have done a little bit research so the questions are appropriate but example questions might be how did you become a solicitor/get to where you are, why did you do law, what do you enjoy most about your job/ practice area, what do you do in your free time.

Ask for advice for specific challenges that you face

Once you have kicked off your relationship you may want to dig deeper if you have clicked. You have an opportunity to be open and honest in a mentoring relationship and ask for advice. Some mentors will be better at answering these questions than others but asking “what would you do?” can open up advice, recommendations and the sharing of experiences. You may not get a straightforward answer or solution but you will definitely get a second opinion.

Ask how you can help them

As mentioned above, as a student you may feel that you don’t have much to offer. Most mentees are only concerned about what they can get out of the relationship, but communicating that you are willing to have a mutual relationship can make you stand out. After all, it doesn’t have to be strictly work related, it could be recommendations and referrals.

Ask if you can follow-up with them

To keep the relationship going (and assuming you feel that it is working) you should make plans to meet up again, or agree how (or when) you will follow-up. Never leave your meeting with your mentor without an agreement about your next steps or how you will meet up in the future.