What makes a good mentee?

Alejandro Ruperti
5 min read

I've helped manage hundreds of mentorships at SharpestMinds over the last year. I've come to appreciate how powerful having the right mentor can be. Everyone should have a mentor; we make it easy to find them. But once you do, how do you ensure your mentorship is successful? That you're getting all the value you can from it? Here's what we've learned is most important:

1. Focus

As a general rule, we've found mentees who are focused exclusively on one type of techincal role tend to get the most out of the mentorship experience. That's because landing your first role in data science, for example, can be challenging and takes considerable effort - effort that's easiest to put in when you're completely dedicated to that particular career path.

2. Open and honest communication

It can be awkward and intimidating to tell your mentor that you're struggling. Perhaps you realized that you need to downscope the project. Perhaps you haven't landed an interview in a while. Perhaps you're just feeling discouraged. If it isn't good news, it can be difficult to bring it up. However, a good mentor is there to support you in the good and in the bad. The best mentorships we've seen had mentors and mentees who confronted the awkwardness and had the difficult conversations.

3. Resilience

The job hunt can be psychologically grueling. Most of the feedback you'll get from the market is either silence or rejection [1]. This can distort your perception of your chances of success if you let it. But the best mentees persevere and cultivate a growth mindset. A recently-hired mentee had a hard-won interview where he realized he was unqualified for the role. Instead of becoming flustered, he leaned into it. He used the opportunity to learn as much as he could from the Senior Data Scientist interviewing him. He leveraged the situation to improve his candidacy ahead of the next interview.

4. Minimum Technical Viability

Most mentors are not suited to take a mentee from "Hello World" to gainfully employed in a technical role (yet!). The best mentees have already absorbed many of the fundamentals via a University program, a bootcamp, MOOCs, building projects, or some combination thereof. However, out of all of these, the most compelling one is an interesting project. "Interesting" here can be defined as "unlikely to have been lifted from some public source". It shows that you're the type of person who is willing to work hard to solve problems that are important to you. This makes mentors much more willing to invest in you.

5. Ownership

A mentor can dramatically reduce the amount of unknown unknowns in your journey. This can save you a ton of time and help you focus your efforts. But mentors cannot spoon-feed you. They can't turn you into a superstar. Nor can they guarantee you a job. You are responsible for doing the work. The best mentees take ownership over their own journey.

[1] This was so insidious that we recently launched our own Application Tracker to help you gauge how you're doing based on bulk statistics from across the entire SharpestMinds network.

If this sounds like you and you feel ready to break into the industry, let us help you find a mentor who's been there and done that.

Alejandro Ruperti
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