Not everyone has—or wants—a mentor. But if you do have someone in your life who helps guide your professional and/or personal life, you probably want to make sure that you use your time with them wisely.
A lot of energy and effort goes into mentoring someone, so if you’re on the receiving end of that sort of relationship, it’s important not to take their advice for granted, and to make every minute with them count. Over on Ladders, Robert Carnevale has provided a list of 40 questions to ask your mentor to get the most out of your relationship, broken down by category. Here is what to ask your mentor to help you learn essential life lessons.
To learn about failure
When you have a mentor, you don’t just want them to tell you about when the times when everything went right for them. You may benefit even more from hearing about the mistakes they made and what they learned from them. To discover more about that aspect of their lives or careers, consider the following questions:
1. What’s a big mistake you’ve made that you’d want others to avoid repeating?
2. What’s your strategy for overcoming failure?
3. What’s an essential lesson you learned as a result of failure?
4. When should I give up on a pursuit?
5. Do you believe in the sunk-cost fallacy?
6. How do you assess what feedback is legitimate?
7. How do you integrate feedback into your work and lifestyle?
8. How big of a risk is too big of a risk?
9. How do you determine which weaknesses can be overcome?
10. Can you tell a story of how you recovered from a massive blunder?
To learn about success
Of course, you’re also going to want to know what your mentor did right—how and when they succeeded—so you can take note and apply similar strategies in your own life. Here’s what to ask to learn more about winning:
11. What decision netted you the most success in your career?
12. Is there a particularly effective strategy for achieving success in this field?
13. Which people do I need to stick around to maximize chances of success in this field?
14. Where should I be networking?
15. Have you ever made a single change that led to tremendous success?
16. How can I be more strategic in pursuing my career goals?
17. What traits do I need to exhibit to stay ahead of the curve in this industry?
18. At how fast a clip can one reasonably expect to climb the ladder in this field?
19. What should success look like at this stage in my career?
20. What should I be focused on right now to smoothly transition into the next leg of my career?
To learn about introspection
If you’re not someone who is used to being introspective, asking your mentor these questions can help you begin to think in those terms:
21. If you were me, what’s the single most important question you would ask you?
22. If you were me, what’s something you’d aim to change immediately?
23. How can I tell I’m not cherry-picking which feedback I accept about myself?
24. Is there a strategy to unlearning behaviors that are holding me back in this field?
25. Do I exhibit any warning signs that indicate this field won’t be right for me in the long run?
26. When is it time for me to contemplate changing career paths?
27. How do I ensure I’m prioritizing the right things?
28. Where do you feel I fall short?
29. How am I perceived by those around me?
30. What should I do right now to improve myself and my career prospects?
To learn more about your mentor in general
Maybe you and your mentor have a long history together, or perhaps you’ve only met recently. If you want to learn more about their background and how they got to where they are today, ask them about it. Just make sure they’re comfortable discussing these things first:
31. What’s the greatest obstacle you’ve overcome?
32. What’s an obstacle you couldn’t overcome?
33. What’s the most unexpected obstacle you’ve had to face?
34. What’s a good thing to be afraid of?
35. What’s been the most exciting point in your career?
36. Do you find any utility in holding onto regrets?
37. Where do you think you could’ve done better, had you known what you know now?
38. Which values got you to where you are today?
39. When did you know you’d “made it” and were where you wanted to be?
40. Has your definition of success changed over the years?
Yes, this is a lot. You probably don’t want to corner your mentor and fire these questions off one after the other. But if you’re looking for ways to utilize your mentor’s time well and truly benefit from their experience, this list is a good place to start.