Why is building trust key when mentoring junior IT talent?

During my years of mentoring, I have learned that building trust is the most important individual element when growing and supporting junior IT talent. Trust impacts how steeply their learning curve will continue to develop after entering work-life and how much they enjoy time spent at work – both of which are key to being an engaged colleague.

A big part in building trust is something that is hard to put into words, at least for me. It is something that has to do with intuition and what kind of person you as a mentor are. Yet there are many concrete things I have found to be useful and therefore wanted to share.

The first step is simple: get to know the person you are mentoring

When a new junior talent starts their assignment, I like to take time to sit down just them and I to chat about who they are and general topics of interest. Their self-confidence, expectations and how eager they are to try new things impact the mentoring pace. How fast can they be thrown into the deep end?

Understanding their level of competence and what skills they would like to develop going forward is also very important. Even though we might usually start out with more familiar tech to feel the sense of pride and accomplishment, a shared vision of the way forward is important. When their confidence grows, new areas of tech will be explored based on their own interests.

Explaining the scope and being humane

How I start building trust is by highlighting the fact that it is my job to be the mentor and answer their questions. It might sound a bit strange but, in my experience, this makes it much easier for the junior to reach out to me as frequently as needed. When they understand that I am not supporting them just to be nice or in addition to my daily work, they are more prone to rely on me.

Another thing I like to emphasize in the beginning is that I too am a regular person who just happens to have more experience in this specific field that we work in. I am not special or a better human being in any way. I am an equal colleague who also makes mistakes. I can probably support in more challenging tech problems, but when it gets really tricky, we most likely need to find solutions together.

Giving feedback and learning how to ask questions

Giving feedback consistently, kindly, and constructively is a big part of growing new tech talent and building trust. In the beginning I focus on explaining why things are done a certain way, why that is the best solution. Quite quickly I will move towards a more coaching approach where instead of giving already thought-out answers, I give options and start asking the junior questions like: why would this solution be better than the other one?

Activating their own thought process will force them to put their learning to use, show them how much they in fact know and prove how capable they already are in solving many of the problems they face independently.

I also want to challenge juniors in how to ask questions. “Why doesn’t this work” or “what went wrong now” are the type of questions that do not promote independent problem solving. When I encourage them to prepare their questions properly before asking, they end up doing the coaching process for themselves.

Trust feeds overall engagement

All the best teams that I’ve been part of had one thing in common: we were all friends who trusted each other. That obviously doesn’t happen overnight, but the things mentioned above help in building that trust little by little so that the work we do feels fun, the people we work with can become more than colleagues and our engagement towards our employer grows stronger.

- Janne Jaanila, Senior Consultant & Team Lead