A beginner’s guide for mentees to ace their mentor sessions

Elaine Grobler
September 4, 2023
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Sweaty palms tighten their grip around the handle of the tennis racket anxiously awaiting the ball that’s about to come hurling through the air.

Let’s pause for a second. I love a good (or in this case mediocre) metaphor, so of course when I started thinking about the mentor-mentee relationship, the game of tennis immediately came to mind. A game involving a dynamic back and forth between two players.

Prior to starting my product design journey I had little experience with what a more formal mentor-mentee relationship would look like. It was only once I started with Mento Design Academy that I began exploring this relationship.

Let’s get back to the metaphor…anxiously awaiting the ball that is about to come hurling through the air. Albeit slightly dramatic, this describes some of what I was feeling the first time I was about to join the Zoom link and meet with my mentor.

Now you might have noticed that I described myself (the mentee) as being on the receiving end. With the mentor being the guide, the teacher, the one who would impart all of their wisdom unto me (the Yoda so to speak). Now although this is all true to a mentor’s role, I had mistakenly viewed my role (as mentee) as more passive.

I’ve since come to understand that this could not be further from the truth. As mentee you are not the one waiting to receive the first ball in play, but rather the one to serve it! Your mentor (or Yoda) is a fountain of knowledge, skills and expertise and it is your task to tease out as much of it as possible, while soaking it up and putting it into practice. Let’s talk about the ‘how’ to do this in practical terms.

Before I move onto the ‘how’ let me first share the context that I am using as my frame of reference:

  • Type of mentoring: Virtual, one-to-one mentoring sessions
  • Frequency: Weekly
  • Purpose: Career development
  • Context: Design Bootcamp

The How

Time is a valuable and limited resource and so it’s important that you make the most of the time that you have with your mentor. The best way to do that is by being prepared and taking initiative. Let’s break it down to what you can do before, during and after the sessions with your mentor.


When you’re learning something new, curiosity can be your biggest asset.

1. Capitalize on your curiosity. Be curious as you work through the content and tasks for the week. Whenever a question comes up, you can approach it in three different ways:

  • Promptly ask your mentor or peers. If it’s something task specific that you are unsure about and warrants a fairly straightforward or quick response, reach out to your mentor or a peer and ask them.
  • Look for the answer. Google and ChatGPT are your best friends! If more questions come up, don’t be afraid to explore. Just make sure that you reel it back in.
  • Write it down and come back to it later. Don’t worry so much about the wording of the question, just make sure it’s written in a way that your ‘future self’ will understand what you’re trying to ask.

As the week goes by you’ll find that you have collected quite a few questions.

2. Sift through your questions. A day before your meeting with your mentor, have a look at all the questions you’ve jotted down. Take some time to sift through the ones you’ve gathered. The goal is to identify which questions you want to ask your mentor.

For some questions you might have already discovered the answer, others you might not find as useful anymore. These questions you can scratch out, delete or ignore. Hopefully this will leave you with the juicy questions.

Now, as adults we become more self-aware and there is more at stake, so fear and anxiety tend to rear their heads. We become cautious in how we ask questions not wanting to ask any ‘dumb’ questions. At this point some people might chime in with, ‘There’s no such thing as a dumb question.’ There is. Many of which I’ve asked, but the point of a question is to discover or clarify and so even if it seems straightforward, more likely than not your mentor will be more than willing to answer. In some cases these questions can lead to the most valuable insights — so ask them!

3. Questions audit. Once you’ve identified the questions you want to ask make sure that you can’t find the answer through other means. You want to uncover valuable insights and knowledge from your mentor that is not readily available elsewhere. Aim to choose questions that will further your understanding of a task or topic in the future. Questions that are investigative in nature and want to explore the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind something. For the most part questions relating to the task itself can quickly be asked and answered over whatever platform you use to communicate with your mentor and peers.

It might be important to mention that you are not limited to only asking questions. If you’ve uncovered interesting insights during the week or want to reflect on something that you’ve learnt or done — then do it!

4. Pay attention to the wording. Go over your questions and make sure they’re worded in a way that will accurately convey what you are trying to learn more about.

5. Send an agenda. You have your list of questions, insights or reflections, so go ahead and send it through to your mentor. (In all honesty, I don’t always do this. However, it’s considered best practice as it allows your mentor to think about what you’ve asked in advance so that they can give an even better answer.)

6. Identify time sensitive questions. Have a quick glance over the agenda and decide which questions you need answers to by the end of the session and which are not as pressing. This will act as your North Star during your session.

For those of you who feel like the above steps seem like too much. I’ve got you. Take 15 minutes before your session. Think about what you’ve done over the course of the week. Scan through what’s coming up. Write down any questions that you have about what you’ve done so far and/ or pre-empt any questions you might have about what’s coming up. Do a quick Google search to see if you can find the answer. Aim to ask questions that explore the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of what you’ve been doing. You’re all set to go!


With a flick of the wrist you set the game in motion. An exhilarating back and forth exchange.

1. Let your questions act as your guide. You have already established (and ideally communicated) what you want out of the session with your agenda. Your questions, insights or reflections will give your session structure and purpose.

2. Take the scenic route. By that I mean, that you allow space for your questions, insights or reflections to lead to other questions or topics that you had not anticipated. This is often where you gain valuable insights and nuggets of wisdom.

3. Ask follow-up questions. When your mentor answers a question or shares their experience don’t shy away from asking follow-up or clarifying questions. Remember curiosity is an asset!

4. Stay aware of the time and your objectives. Make sure that you have enough time to get to all the pressing questions you have.

5. Take notes. During your session you want to make notes so that you can refer back to it. It also shows that you are engaged during your session.


1. Apply the knowledge. Try to put what you have learnt from the session into practice as soon as possible.

2. Share the impact. Let your mentor know how what they’ve said has helped or changed the way you approach something. We’re all human and it’s nice to hear how we’ve helped or supported someone.

Hopefully both players step away from the court feeling energized and stimulated. Ultimately, it’s a special thing to have someone share their knowledge with you and guide you, so make the most of it!

This would be an apt time to express my gratitude to Pia Klancar, my wonderful mentor, who shares her wisdom, offers guidance and motivates me with challenges (like requesting that I write this very article). Thank you Pia! I appreciate all that you do.

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