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8/2/2013
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5 Ways To Be A Stronger IT Mentor

Mentoring has profound effects on both the mentor and mentee. Here's how to create a better relationship so you both can reap more benefits.

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It's no secret that having a smart, dedicated mentor can advance your career. According to one report, which followed Sun Microsystems' mentor program for five years, sharing your expertise as a mentor can benefit both your career trajectory and your bank account.

The study, which followed 1,000 mentors and mentees, found that while the employees who received mentoring were promoted five times more often than those who didn't, mentors were six times more likely to be offered a bigger job. Both mentors and mentees were more than 20% more likely to be awarded a raise than those who didn't participate in the mentoring program, but -- more surprising -- 28% of mentors got a raise while 25% of mentees did.

Laura McGarrity, VP of marketing at IT recruitment firm Mondo, said that the benefits of mentoring a more junior employee are many.

"You become a better communicator and a better listener," McGarrity said. "You can gain access to new skill sets that younger employees are more versed with. But you also learn to share your experiences in a way that's not self-serving, and without having to embellish or sell yourself, which can be refreshing."

[Brush up on your interview skills. Read Ace Your Internal IT Job Interview: 5 Tips.]

Here are five things you can do to be a better mentor to IT professionals.

1. Know What You Can Handle

It's important to be wary of your time limitations and your current workload, McGarrity said. Know that signing on to be a mentor is usually a year-long commitment, and if your schedule may not allow this, you should think twice.

"There's so much going on in the world of technology and it's rapidly evolving," she said. "When you make a commitment to be a mentor, you're committing to going through this evolution with them. Especially in the technology sector, that means you need to be aware of and keep up with this shift that's happening."

Whether you're new to mentoring or have done it before, it's important to be wary of how many mentees you take on, McGarrity said. While you may feel like you can guide and give a lot to many, you need to be wary of how it could impact the quality of your mentoring. A good rule of thumb, McGarrity said, is to not commit to more than two mentees.

"If you think you can be a strong mentor, committing to one person is better than diluting your time and energy across two or more," she said.

2. Set Expectations

Setting expectations at the beginning of your mentor-mentee relationship is essential and is often overlooked, especially with new mentors, McGarrity said. Have a conversation with your mentee in the early stages to discuss what he or she hopes to get out of the relationship.

"Find out the skill sets they're looking to improve, what they want to achieve in their career and who they aspire to be," she said. "Having an understanding of expectations upfront will help to guide your conversations and your relationship."

On your end, this means having a mutual understanding of how often you'll talk and how accessible you are, as well as reinforcing trust and open communication, McGarrity said.

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3. Make Yourself Available

Executives are really busy, and mentees recognize this, McGarrity said. But you don't want that to translate to the notion that you don't enough time for him or her.

"Mentees know how busy their mentors are and mentees often lack confidence about approaching you because of it," she said. "You need to make it known to them that you do have time for them, and you don't want them to hesitate in contacting you when they have a question. That's why you're there."

Make this part of your early conversations, McGarrity said, and explicitly debunk that idea.

4. Develop Trust

One of the most important characteristics of a solid mentor-mentee relationship is the level of mutual trust you have established. Your mentee needs to trust that you're dedicated to helping him or her, and you need to trust that your mentee is serious and receptive to receiving feedback, McGarrity said.

"Trust in a mentor-mentee relationship needs to be a two-way street. As a mentor, you need to find similarities you share to make that initial connection with them. You need to let them know that your conversations will always be private," she said. "Once you've established that trusting relationship, your mentee will feel more comfortable about opening up and using you as the resource you are."

5. Keep An Open Line Of Communication

Open communication is key to every successful mentor-mentee relationship, McGarrity said. This includes setting the expectations on how often you're available to communicate with them and the means of communication you both prefer, with the understanding that extenuating circumstances will arise.

"Stressful situations will happen, or they'll want to pick up the phone or email you to meet for coffee," McGarrity said. "That's part of creating trust and open communication within certain boundaries. Mentees tend to respect those boundaries. They know you probably won't be available at midnight."

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