🚩 5 mentor red flags to avoid

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“You’re not allowed to ask me questions.”

Wait, what? I was shocked. I had just hopped onto this mentorship call expecting some guidance for my tech career…

…and thus begins the worst mentorship experience I’ve ever had.

Before I dive into it more (and there are so many more red flags), let me share why I’m telling you this story.

Your journey in tech will be full of ups and downs.

Trust me, as a fellow newbie in tech, I get it. It’s a hard - but rewarding - journey, and you may need handholding at some point.

By learning from my experiences, I hope you can avoid these 5 mentorship red flags. Then, you can succeed rather than be dragged down by bad mentors.

Because good mentors should accelerate your growth and push you out of your comfort zone (in a good way).

Bad mentors weigh you down and hinder your career growth.


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❌ Red flag 1: not listening to you

A bad mentor refuses to listen to their mentee.

When I started my mentorship call, the mentor told me “I will not repeat myself.” I paid rapt attention, but halfway in he told me “I should be the one doing the asking, not you.”

I immediately got the impression that I wasn’t allowed to speak - and could only listen to the mentor recount their life stories.

It felt like they wanted an audience, not a mentee.


❌ Red flag 2: acts condescending

I have a growth mindset. I think there’s something to take away from every conversation, even if I had a terrible experience.

Unfortunately, the mentor didn’t have the same mindset.

They acted like I had nothing to contribute and that they were better than me.

This further contributed to my impression that my role as a mentee was just to sit and listen.

But mentorship is a two-way street. Your mentor is supposed to learn more about you to better help you.


❌ Red flag 3: talks about unrelated personal matters

Learning from a mentor’s experience is valuable - you can avoid mistakes they’ve made and get a clear direction for your career goals.

However, if your mentor is sharing unrelated, personal stories with you - treating the mentorship call as a therapy session - it may be time to reconsider the relationship.

Sharing stories to help you improve is fine. However, when my mentor started talking to me about relationships and complaining about them, I felt uncomfortable. It was my first time speaking with this mentor, and the personal stories were not related to mentorship or career at all.


❌ Red flag 4: has poor communication skills

Communication is the #1 most important soft skill in the workplace.

If your mentor:

  • Refuses to answer your questions - or even allow you to ask questions
  • Never responds to your requests to meet
  • Shows zero commitment to your mentor-mentee relationship

it may be time to find a mentor more well-suited for you.

My mentor also:

  • Wasn’t interested in my personal and career growth
  • Didn’t seem prepared to answer my career questions
  • Was not willing to share details about their career that could help me grow

This is why having - and communicating - clear expectations for your mentorship experience is so important. Many mentorship beginners don’t do this, so we compiled a list of mentorship mistakes you need to avoid.


❌ Red flag 5: doesn’t take feedback well

Since I felt like I couldn’t speak frankly with the mentor, I also didn’t feel like I could give them feedback to improve.

However, they kept pushing me to leave them a review for their mentorship.

I finally sent a list of my concerns, taking care to write that while this may not be what they wanted to hear, it might help them improve for future mentees.

The mentor’s response?

“I’ve mentored hundreds of people and have never received these complaints.”

Maybe that’s because they were scared of how you’d react, I thought.

Seeing how others respond to feedback - especially critical feedback - is something that can be very telling of their character.

If they have a growth mindset and want to improve themselves, they’ll try to learn from the feedback.

Keep this in mind as you find mentors, because despite the different stages in your careers, you and your mentor should still have a mutual respect for each other.


Summary

If you see these red flags from mentors, it’s time to re-evaluate the relationship:

  1. Not listening to you
  2. Acts condescending
  3. Talks about unrelated personal matters
  4. Has poor communication skills
  5. Doesn’t take feedback well
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