How to approach your first mentoring meeting

Steve Palmer is communications manager at the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) and a former trustee at CharityComms.

He talks about the importance of using the first mentoring meeting to get to know your mentor.

“I think the first meeting with your mentor is about assessing the chemistry of the match. It’s a professional friendship and you need to find out whether you spark off each other and have a rapport. The chemistry was immediate with my mentor. I knew within the first few minutes that we could work together. We appeared to have a lot in common. We have both worked with a range of small and large charities in PR, know how the charity sector works and have a similar level of emotional intelligence. I remember we said, ‘We seem to be getting on’. If you don’t feel your relationship is working after the first session, I don’t think you’d want to pursue it. If that happens, you could talk about what you want to do next at the end of the session or get in touch with CharityComms.

Agree boundaries

I emailed my mentor to arrange the first meeting within a few days of the introduction because, if you don’t do that, it can ‘slope off’. When we met, we both gave a potted history of our careers and discussed what we cared about. I asked why she went into the charity sector and about her philosophy on management.

It’s important to agree boundaries in the first meeting. It sets the grounds for honesty in your relationship. Decide how often you are going to meet, for how long and where – and who will email to arrange this. My mentor and I met for an hour and a half every three months, which I don’t think is too onerous. You need a quiet place, like a coffee shop without music, because it’s a casual business meeting. I’d also suggest that you agree when you will review the relationship.

Set expectations

We also discussed whether we’d contact each other between meetings in our first session. This meant I knew I could contact my mentor if something happened at work that I wanted to run past her.

It’s useful to set expectations together, to discuss what you want to talk about and what a ‘normal’ meeting looks like. You can over complicate things by bringing in your whole objectives for the year. It’s more helpful to concentrate on one or two things. I wanted extra support from someone who worked in PR and communications outside my organisation who knew about leadership. I wanted their objective viewpoint about my work at SCIE as well as my personal career objectives. For example, my mentor told me I was doing the right thing writing more for trade press, which encouraged me to continue doing it.

I don’t think the first meeting is something to be nervous about. It’s your opportunity to get to know someone in a professional friendship way that you wouldn’t normally get insight from.”

Read more top tips and guidance about being a mentee in our mentee resources section.