A few years back, I made a deliberate effort to structure my approach to mentorship. As someone who genuinely wanted to provide value but had limited energy and time for ad hoc chats, I decided to create a mentorship program that aligned with my management style. I called it Project Athena.
In my program, I adopted a structured 1-1 format for biweekly or monthly conversations. This format allowed us to systematically review the past weeks, discussing everything from project milestones at work to valuable learnings and even setbacks. We set clear goals for the upcoming weeks, crafted a development plan, and exchanged reading recommendations to foster growth.
This approach was reminiscent of the way Aristos operates. However, my focus was not on being a therapist for individuals to vent about their manager or office-related frustrations. Instead, I aimed to be more of an accountability coach, someone who could help mentees stay on track with their professional growth.
Reflecting on why this program didn’t quite work as I had hoped, I realized that, unlike Aristos, where the goal was to learn about product management and ultimately secure a product job, participants in my program didn’t have a strong incentive to push themselves. Moreover, I hadn’t charged anything for my mentorship, so there was no financial commitment to drive motivation. As a result, the program eventually faded away.
Interestingly, one of the most fruitful mentor-mentee relationships I established during this time was with a college student who had reached out to me expressing interest in doing Aristos on his own. Initially, I was skeptical, as many people send direct messages to build relationships but often don’t follow up. However, this student was different.
He consistently sent progress updates and reached out with specific questions when needed. His discipline and dedication stood out, and it paid off when he successfully converted an internship into a full-time role. Even after securing the job, he continued to maintain our mentor-mentee relationship.
Whenever he had a win at work, he’d send a direct message to share the good news. When he encountered challenges (as early PM jobs can be quite confusing with a lack of proper mentorship in the industry), he diligently did his homework and approached me with well-thought-out, specific questions. Over time, I became deeply invested in this relationship, and now, no matter how busy my schedule, I’m always eager to make time for him.
This experience reinforced the concept of “lines, not dots” that I had previously written about. Building lasting, meaningful connections takes time and consistent effort, just like connecting dots to form a line. This student exemplified this principle beautifully.
In fact, if I were to head a product team elsewhere, he would be one of my first hires without a doubt.
When I speak about differentiated job-hunting strategies, this student’s approach could certainly be considered one. However, it’s important to note that authenticity is key in such endeavors.
Cultivating genuine, lasting relationships and following through with commitment can be immensely rewarding.
I want to clarify that this post isn’t a reflection of the quality of the PMs I wanted to mentor or have mentored in the past. Many of them have continued to thrive in their careers, and I’ve stayed in touch with them. I’m simply highlighting why my initial mentorship approach didn’t yield the desired results and why a different approach proved successful for someone else.
P.S I have been feeling lazy lately. Not motivated to edit or even write new content. This was a twitter thread I had shared a few months back. I edited it with the help of ChatGPT and turned into this post.