Mentorship 101

LI Kathy Chan

In the 14 years I’ve spent as a working professional, I’ve learned that mentorship is an art, not a science. A good mentor/mentee relationship requires an investment of time from both sides, but should lead to mutually beneficial outcomes. At the same time, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, since you need to consider the individual personalities involved.

My mentorship experiences have included a mentor who I was formally paired with via a mentor/mentee program and someone who was a natural mentor given our professional working relationship.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to serve as a mentor to recent graduates of my alma mater, Northwestern University, and most recently, to participants of YNPN Chicago’s 2015 Leadership Institute. While I’m honored to serve as a mentor by these entities, I selfishly consider these opportunities as a way to encourage talented individuals to remain in the nonprofit sector. I also see it as a great way to keep up with the next generation of smart and motivated leaders of social change and innovation.

While all of these relationships were unique, I’d like to offer some observations about how to make the best of these experiences:

As a mentee:

  • Be prepared – Take some time to think about what you’re most interested in learning from your mentor. Jot down these ideas and bring them to your meeting.
  • Act professional – Ask your mentor for advice about how to handle difficult situations or personalities, but don’t use these sessions to complain about your boss or coworkers.
  • Be on time – Your mentor is likely busy, so respect the start and end time of your meetings.
  • Ask questions – It’s okay not to know every detail about your mentor in advance. Ask questions about his/her journey to where he/she is today.
  • Stay in touch – Even after the formal program ends, stay in touch with your mentor with an email or phone call every few months or when you have any major announcements to share.

While I’m a bit newer to serving as a mentor, here are some things that I’ve reflected on in my recent experiences:

  • Set ground rules – In addition to sharing my views on work and professional development, I also have lots of opinions about work/life balance, especially as a new mom. But not everyone may want to talk about personal details of his/her own life, so just be upfront with expectations at your introductory meeting.
  • Be quiet – It’s easy to talk about yourself, but don’t go overboard. If asked, share information about how you got to where you are today, but be sure to also ask questions of your mentee to gauge what background information is most relevant.

What would you add to or change about this list? What tips or advice would you share with someone who is new to the mentor or mentee role? Send your recommendations and questions to or share them with us on social media.


About the Author

Kathy ChanKathy is the Director of Policy for Cook County Health & Hospital System where she provides leadership on policy activities and initiatives for the nation’s third largest public hospital system, which includes two hospitals, 16 community health centers, an HIV/AIDS specialty clinic, correctional health services at the county jail and juvenile detention center, and the Cook County Department of Public Health.

Kathy is an appointed member and elected Chair of the Illinois Medicaid Advisory Committee and serves on the boards of Chicago Volunteer Doulas and the Midwest Access Project. Kathy graduated with a B.A. in English from Northwestern University and began her career as an organizer with Green Corps. Read Kathy’s full bio here.