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Mining for Tip and Technique Gems You Can Use Today By: Roger Cote

Perhaps one of the most valuable benefits offered by being involved with a mentor is the opportunity to learn pragmatic tips and techniques that can help you do your job better.  Certainly, anyone entering into a mentoring relationship does so hoping to improve personally and professionally.  Long-term goals, five-year plans, and skills and career development goals all tend to find their way into action plans that help define the bigger learning needs.  But what about the microlearning needs? 

Examining every aspect of your program goals helps shape your plans for navigating a mentoring partnership throughout the program’s course. Addressing these elements helps you identify topics of conversation and potential activities to help you attain your longer-term goals.  But wouldn’t it be great to be able to take something back with you from each meeting?  Something that you can immediately apply to your job.  Some of that just-in-time learning that helps solve a current need so you can be more productive, or more effective at completing your current tasks.  Discover the not-so-big-secret by simply paying attention to your day-to-day tasks, and work small bits into your short-term plans:

Create a meeting agenda.  Your agenda should be a staple element of each meeting with your mentor.  When you work on your agenda, include time for discussion on your overall goals, status or follow-up on your current activities, and a little time devoted to strengthening your partnership connection.

Now, add a few minutes to mine one small nugget of knowledge from your mentor; something that you can take back to the desk, field, or customer site simply by considering the things you do day-to-day.

Focus on one skill you can take back to your job.  Think of the "little” things that you do on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis.  Using MS Excel to track progress or calculate project costs, for example.  Was there some issue you were having with creating a more effective formula or approach to completing tasks there?  Examples of how to improve skills with software tools are endless; and you don’t always need to take a full-fledged class to make gains.  Many mentors have skills with a variety of software tools that you are currently using; you could benefit from their experience.

The possibilities extend well beyond software tools.  Many occupations require the use and application of hardware or technology, some involve developing skills for customer interaction, and every job benefits from improving communication skills.  Almost everyone can think of a situation they’ve been in where they wondered, "How do I ask this person something about what I need in the best way possible?”  For example, "What’s the best way to ask my supervisor for more responsibility.”   "Better feedback on how I am doing.” Or "Help with a troublesome task.”

Ask your mentor for advice.  Asking for help with something that might seem trivial to you is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of ability or motivation.  Certainly, you can do the homework and figure out many issues on your own.  But sooner or later, everyone runs into a snag that can be simply resolved by asking someone else for their thoughts.  In the end, a little insight often helps resolve a smaller issue that might be holding you back from taking the next step toward a bigger goal, or it might just help you simplify a common task and make your day go just a little bit smoother.



How can your mentor provide you with tips, tools, or new techniques that you can bring back to your job?  Work this mining task into your early meetings and you will find that the questions can lead to ideas for short- and long-term elements in your mentoring plans.

Tell your mentor about yourself first; it provides a reference of understanding for your questions.

·         Tell your mentor about your job; the hardware, software, and other tools that you use regularly. 

·         Perhaps an issue might lie in a tool you use less frequently. 

·         Talk about your professional interactions.

Ask your mentors about their experiences with the tools you use frequently or infrequently.

·         What shortcuts might they know?

·         Do they have a tool preference for completing a specific task?  Why?

·         Are there other options, technologies that you might not being thinking about that they would suggest you look into?

·         Maybe they know someone who knows.

Ask about their experiences in your particular job; perhaps they remember a few little things that used to hold them back.

·         How to improve communication skills for a specific issue or upcoming need.

·         What resources might be available so you can dig a little deeper into a specific topic or issue on your own? 

When looking for opportunities to discover the smaller tips and tricks that can help you in your professional (or even personal) life, try to focus on a specific task or topic.  If something is going to require multiple meetings, extended research and follow-up, or will require time to develop a skill, put those into your long-term basket.

Finally, always remember to ask, "Is there something you are missing, just not thinking about, that they might think could help you get past your snag?”  Sometimes, you just don’t know what you don’t know, and that simple question can provide the next step to learning more, one way or another.