70% of Fortune 500 companies use formal mentorship programs, something which is increasingly becoming recognized as a good investment for any business. The programs pair new employees with more experienced ones to help their careers and skills develop. It also leads to greater employee retention, as developers feel they are valued and that they have space to grow within the company. Mentoring junior developers leads to a better understanding of what unique skills they have and what challenges they face.
The best mentorships will have mentors and mentees learning from each other. When done right, mentorship leads to an increase in job productivity, satisfaction, and retention, creating valuable relationships that can last entire careers.
Mentoring can be done at any sized company. From pair programming, to one-on-one weekly sessions, there’s all sorts of ways to mentor. Here’s some tips and tricks on how to make the most of your mentorships.
1. Mentor Matching: When matching mentor to mentee, keep preferences in mind. Find out where the mentee wants help, and what their goals are. Is there anyone in the workplace they look up to? Similarly, keep in mind that your best developers may not make the best mentors. Mentors have to want to become mentors. Forcing it can lead to resentment and neither party getting anything out of it.
2. Clear Goals and Roles: Mentor and mentee must understand what their respective roles are in the mentorship, and what goals they are working towards. It’s important that everyone is on the same page and knows what’s expected of them. Have them discuss what the mentee wants to accomplish, and plan out a roadmap for how to get there. With this, you can track progress and see what’s working and what isn’t. The clearer the goals are the easier they can be reached.
3. Schedule Regular Check-Ins: Meeting regularly and discussing progress keeps the mentorship going, and keeps conversation open. Check-ins should be done regularly, and at a frequency that matches the needs of the mentorship. Scheduling a standing meeting in your calendar is a great way to be reminded and to be consistent. It’s best to prepare for meetings beforehand, look things up, practice skills, and think about any pressing questions or concerns to bring up.
4. Pair-Programming: This is essential for developers. Programming together allows the mentee to watch the mentor’s process, ask questions, and have a chance to work together to figure it out. It allows the mentor to see the mentee’s process, and help them out where they have trouble. Working with live code is a valuable experience as the mentee can see real, live problems, and watch the process that goes into solving them.
5. Code Review: Reviewing the mentee’s code should be approached as solving a problem together - not critiquing and putting down the mentee’s abilities. The point is to have them learn, to think it through, and figure out together what could be improved. What are they struggling with? What do they want to be able to do? Be patient. Many junior developers are largely self-taught and might not know the best practices yet. Listen and explain and answer questions. And be sure to give praise for what they’ve got right.
6. Assign Projects: Give projects to mentees that will help them with their goals. The projects should be at their level - challenging, but not too hard as to be discouraging. It’s best if the mentee can try and figure it out themselves, but if they have trouble be there to offer help where they need it. Sink or swim isn’t the best approach. If the mentee can’t figure it out and doesn’t receive help when they ask, they can become discouraged and unlikely to ask for help in the future - defeating the purpose of the mentorship.
7. Sharing Resources: Outside of check-ins, sending relevant articles, websites, videos, and other resources back and forth can be a good way to keep dialogue open, and to encourage further learning for both mentor and mentee.
8. Don’t Micromanage: The mentee is meant to benefit from the mentor’s knowledge - that doesn’t mean they’ll do things the exact same way the mentor does. Every developer has their own process, and that’s a good thing at the end of the day. It’s important to let the mentee develop their own skills and techniques. Micromanaging will just slow things down and get in the way.
9. Celebrate Success: When a mentee makes improvements or achieves one of their goals, celebrate it! Praise them when they succeed. Show them that their hard work is being acknowledged and valued. This helps them develop a sense of belonging and community, and raises their confidence in their skills. All good things.
10. Feedback: Check in with both mentee and mentor. Listen to what they have to say about the mentorship. Is it working? Do they have enough support? Maybe try an anonymous poll on the mentorship program to get a better idea of how it’s being received. Additionally, feedback between mentee and mentor is important as well. If a mentee experiences little encouragement or reward, they are likely to get discouraged, and if all they receive are critiques, it’s unlikely they will want to ask for help when they need it.