Have you got a project management mentor? Whether you’re excited to meet them for the first time, or have had a few calls/sessions already, you are probably wondering if you are using their time effectively and asking the right questions.
I certainly worried about that when I got my first mentor. Now I mentor other people, I can tell you that all you want is some conversation starters that are relevant to you and your career.
Below, I identify some common categories of question I get asked, along with the ones I wish I was asked! Use these as a starting point in your meetings with your mentor and see where the conversation takes you.
You probably started your mentoring relationship because there was something specific you wanted to learn about or a skill you wanted to develop. Maybe you were allocated a mentor as you recently joined a company and it’s their policy to give you one.
You’ve got your sessions in the diary and you want to make the best use of their time. So what should you be asking them?
Here are some suggestions for questions to ask your mentor.
At the first meeting
The first mentoring session is all about getting to know each other. Here are some good questions to ask a mentor in the first meeting, but feel free to ask your own as well!
- Tell me about your background and experience.
- How did you get into project management?
- When did you join [your company]?
- What’s the best way to get in touch with you?
Also ask some questions about the logistics of the relationship, like these:
- How often do you think we should meet? (Have in mind the answer that you want too.)
- I’d prefer to meet in person/virtually – does that work for you?
- These are my areas of focus, do you think you can help with these?
- How should we review progress?
The first meeting is likely to be all about getting to know each other, creating rapport and setting the intention going forward. You’ll have more detailed discussions about areas of focus and topics that you want to get help on in future sessions.
At regular meetings
You’ll find a regular cadence and probably settle into a regular agenda or routine with the check in sessions. Here are some sample questions you can use to keep the conversation moving.
- Can I tell you what’s happened since we last spoke?
- The topics I have to cover for this session are (more on ideas for these later)
- What would you do?
- Have you ever come across that kind of situation before?
- What advice would you have for me?
Ideally, you’ll come along to each mentoring session with a list of questions so you make good use of the time.
Questions to ask about career development
Is career development one of the topics you want to learn more about? Here are some questions you can ask your mentor about the next steps in your career path.
- I’m thinking of taking a project management certification. Which of these do you think would be the best fit for me?
- Which certifications do you have and what was your experience of getting them?
- What do you think I need to work on to get a promotion?
- What’s it like running big projects/a PMO/working in X field?
- How much experience did you have before you went for your current role?
You can also use the mentoring session to run through how you would pitch yourself for a promotion or to practice what you would say to your line manager.
If your goal is to discuss career path options, ask your mentor to introduce you to some people in different fields so you can talk to them about their career journey and their daily routines – that might help you narrow down your vision for your career trajectory.
Questions to ask about project management methods and techniques
Pick a few areas where you feel you could develop your skills and focus on those. Preferably, choose areas where you are less confident and know you need to build experience and confidence in order to progress.
- I’d like to learn more about X, where do you think I should start?
- Having read the policy/process document/standard operating procedure on Y, I have a few questions. Can we go through the list?
- Do you have any book recommendations on X topic?
- Can you show me an example of when you’ve done Y so I can compare it to what I’m doing?
- What might my blind spots be in this process?
- What are your tips for managing multiple projects?
Try to ask specific questions. The vaguer you are, the lower the quality of the response and the less practical advice you’ll get.
Ask your mentor for actionable advice, for example, if they could share examples of project management documents that have landed well with stakeholders so you can use them for inspiration.
Questions to ask about navigating the organization
One of the big challenges for new entrants to a team or organization is where to go for help and learning who does what. Office politics plays a big part in being an effective manager, and luckily for your, your experienced mentor has been there, done that and knows how to get things done.
Here are some questions to ask to speed up your ability to navigate your company’s internal politics and structures.
- Who is the best person to talk to for X?
- Where can I find the organizational/hierarchy charts for Y?
- I’m having trouble getting a response from X. What have you found is the best way to contact them?
- Who are the key influencers for Y?
- How can I get time with X team when they don’t reply to my emails?
- Which other stakeholders do you think I should be considering for this project?
Ask whether they have any tips for networking, or whether they can introduce you to their contacts so you can build your own professional relationships more quickly.
Understanding the workplace culture and the dynamics of soft power within the organization can hugely increase your influence, so use your mentor for the insider information!
Questions to ask about time management and productivity
We all want to use time more efficiently and work smarter, and the chances are that your mentor already has some tips that work well within the organization and in the role.
Use these questions to find out some smart shortcuts for your work.
- Can you give me some examples of productivity here?
- Are there any shortcuts for the X system?
- Where can I find the user guides/crib sheets for the project management software (or any software) so I can use it more effectively?
- What time management or productivity training does the organization offer (if the answer is none, take my productivity for project managers course).
Hopefully, your mentor is demonstrating a good work/life balance and part of time management is getting enough time for yourself. Ask about how they manage to juggle their professional life with being present at home!
Project management mentoring topics
Think about your career objectives and pick a couple of topics that you’d like to use as starting points for conversations at your next mentor meeting.
I know it’s hard to think about what you want to do, when the list of project management mentoring topics is unfeasibly large. I mean, you could ask your mentor about pretty much anything. The PMBOK® Guide now seems to reference so many skills and competencies for project managers and the job is so broad.
If you want some starting points of topics to cover with your career mentor, here is where I’d begin.
- Risk management
- Scope management, especially about the change control process and avoiding scope creep
- Stakeholder engagement and the best ways to have difficult conversations
- Project communication and reporting expectations across the organization
- Quality management
- Leadership skills
- Career transitions and general career advice
Incidentally, all these topics are covered on RebelsGuideToPM.com, so if you don’t get time to discuss them with your mentor, have a read about the key things to know on this website.
Whether you are part of a formal mentorship program, or you’ve reached out to someone informally to start discussing your career goals, a successful mentoring relationship is based on asking (and getting answers to) good questions.
Print out these lists so you’ve got them handy when you’re on your next call with your mentor!
Read next: 9 Tips for Mentoring a Project Manager
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