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Guide for Mentors and Mentees

Guide for Mentors

How to make the most of your mentoring role
As a mentor, you can play a valuable role in multiple ways. The key idea is not to provide answers, but helpful questions, resources, introductions and encouragement.
Sample welcome email to your mentee
Template - sample email text - feel free to adapt and use! Based on a well-written intro note by Andreas Gebhard
Hello TK mentee name,
My name is TK and I’m one of the mentors in the CUNY Journalism Creators Program. First and foremost: congratulations on making it into the program. I’m excited to learn more about your project and how I can help. This email is to briefly introduce myself and send you all my contact details (see below).
Most importantly, for scheduling please use this link: /abcdefg It’s the easiest way to keep track of my availability across various calendars. If these time slots don’t work for your time zone, feel free to suggest alternatives — I’ll see what I can do.
I’ve found that a short intro call + the actual regular mentoring calls worked best in the past. Feel free to grab either half hour or full hour options via the above link, whatever you feel suits your needs best.
Some mentees preferred to schedule all calls throughout the program right at the beginning, others made a point of scheduling the next call right after the last one ended — whatever you feel works best for you.
Any questions at any time: just reach out! And if I take too long to respond to an email, just text me.
Again, congratulations and welcome to the program! Looking forward to the next few weeks,
Mentor Name
Mentoring Nuts and Bolts
Over the course of the next 100 days, we encourage you and your mentee to set up a meeting at least quarterly, or about every three to four weeks.
We strongly encourage you to use a simple appointment scheduling tool like , or to save you and your mentee on lots of back and forth email.
Aim to meet at least 5 times— once early on in the program; once after the first block (25 days), once after 50 days, once after 75 days, and once at the end of the program as you look ahead toward the period thereafter.
Meeting Length: These can be 40-minute meetings, or whatever time you and your mentee deem appropriate.
Our guidance is that these mentor meetings are most productive if the mentee brings a specific issue to discuss where they'd appreciate a fresh, independent perspective. If the mentee does not have an issue in mind, you might pose a few opening questions to identify a topic to focus on. (See sounding board questions below).
After you've had a chance to meet with your mentor a couple of times, please update us on how it's going with this quick 2-question, 2-minute . Just asks who you're working with and for your comments and observations.
If you encounter a problem, such as someone not reaching out to you or not showing up, or otherwise not responding well to your input, please email us immediately to let me know.
Journalism Creators Program Mentor Role
Sounding Board
👂 As a sounding board, you focus on listening and letting mentees think out loud, framing and reframing the decisions in front of them. You can help simply by listening and letting them articulate the opportunities they see and the challenges they face so they gain clarity around what they're doing and not doing.
Sounding Board Key Questions
What have you been working on?
What small bits of progress have you made, and what are you getting stuck on?
Why are you doing the work you're doing?
How does the work you're doing tie into your bigger-picture personal and professional goals?
What are you planning to work on next?
What is the most important thing for you to finish now?
What are some of the small steps that are necessary for you to reach one of your short-term objectives?
What are you getting stuck on?
Why is that a sticking point?
What elements about that can you address, and which ones can't you?
Gentle Nudging
As a mentor, you can nudge your mentees to add detail to their plans, get unstuck, and prioritize what they need to do for their project to progress.
Network and Resource Sharing
You can connect mentees with relevant resources and useful examples of others who have done something related or something they can learn from.
Additional Resources
6 Things Every Mentor Should Do
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Top Tips for Being an Awesome Mentor to Startup Entrepreneurs
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Why everyone needs a sounding board! – Mentorphile
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Startup Mentoring: Something That Can do Wonders to Your Startup
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Great Mentors Focus on the Whole Person, Not Just Their Career
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Tips To Be A Great Mentor from
Teach, Don’t Tell
The role of a mentor is not to criticize a business model. You may want to say to the founders “That’s a terrible idea” or “That will never work.” You are probably right, but that’s not necessarily because you know best. If you predict failure, you’ll be right 9 out of 10 times. It’s the nature of startups.
Your role is not to replace the founder’s business model assumptions and market guesses with your own. You, as a mentor, should teach the founders how to test and validate (or likely invalidate) their assumptions.
Don’t just rehash experiences that have worked for you in the past. Each business scenario whether marketing, product development, customer value proposition and so forth is completely unique and needs to be analyzed for the context of its specific industry, customer, etc.
Guide the founder through questions and stories, not through giving answers. The Socratic approach allows you to ask thoughtful questions to let the team get to answers on their own, giving them ownership of the solution. The best learning is often through growing in skills and mindset, and not just through transfer of knowledge. Questions may take the form of asking about the decisions they have made through the simple yet powerful question of “why” or through specific questions that allow you to get to the root of their objectives and direction.
Be a sounding board, allowing the team to talk through their decisions and challenges.
Focus Your Advice
Provide both high level strategic guidance and support with specifics of customer research approach and analysis, development of product mock-ups and user testing, commercialization tactics, and financials.
Making connections can be helpful when teams need to do an interview with a specialist, or are finding potential partners, suppliers, or customers.
Ask the founder to articulate a clear objective for any particular mentoring session. This allows you to give more focused advice versus just vague, general advice. Have the team send you questions that they may have for you in advance of the meeting.
When giving input, try to avoid opening with saying “Have you ever thought of…” Sometimes this is appropriate to try and get founders to think about things in a new way, but more often than not, the conversation is being hijacked away from the objective.
The best mentors have the ability to ‘score’ their confidence level of the advice they give. In other words, they will say something like, “Listen, I’m just shooting from the hip here, I don’t truly know, but I think…” or “I’m pretty confident about this, because…”
Use the 10x rule – for each hour the founder spends with you, they should be saving 10 hours. You can do this through making introductions or connections for the team, pointing them to resources, and improving their decision making efficiency.
Challenge Assumptions
Help the founder test what is known versus what is unknown. Many new entrepreneurs are coached to act as if they know it all. After all, the thinking goes, if you don’t know, you’re not really ready to launch the business. The difficulty in starting an innovative business, though, is that it will start with a lot of unknowns. Starting the company is essentially a process of focusing on executing what is known and learning what is unknown.
Challenge the team’s thinking by pointing out their assumptions that need to be validated. It’s great that entrepreneurs are passionate about their product idea, but this conviction can blind them to harsh realizations. Help founders devise experiments, provide introductions to customers, or come up with other ways to learn what is unknown, such as looking for analogs in the marketplace. Force difficult realizations when needed, but also ensure that teams are not discouraged when things don’t go as they expect. Ensure they have a bigger vision and multiple options for how to problem solve towards the same goal, and don’t just throw away the entire idea or startup.”
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