Get Ahead

8 questions smart people ask their mentors, according to execs from Facebook, Twitter and more

VP of Facebook Marketplace Deb Liu speaks at a Women in Product conference. 
VP of Facebook Marketplace Deb Liu speaks at a Women in Product conference. 

Your mentor's guidance can turbocharge your career — provided you know how to make the most of the relationship.

To often, mentees are too shy or too formal to get the insights that can truly help them with their toughest decisions. CNBC Make It talked to leaders in technology from a range of companies and organizations to find out what they wish young workers would do and ask. Their answers can help young workers truly tap their mentor's experience and build a relationship that benefits them both.

Questions to ask

Is there anything I can do for you?

This question can help you find a great mentor without outright asking someone to be your mentor, said Jessica Naziri, founder of TechSesh, an online technology lifestyle magazine.

"No matter how senior your mentor might be, there's undoubtedly something you know more about than they do. Ask if you can help your mentor by asking the simple question, 'Is there anything I can do for you?'" she says.

She adds that mentorships, like friendships, should happen naturally and not by formal request. Mentees should incentivize someone to help them, she says.

"You don't ask someone to be your friend. So why would you ask them to be your mentor? Many mentees think of mentorship all wrong. And that means they're missing the great mentors in front of them."

What am I doing wrong?

Ask this question often, then listen openly to feedback, says Annie Weckesser, vice president of communications at NIO, an electric car company. "This helps you develop a growth mindset and develop the best version of you," she says.

Mentees should present real business or technical challenges to their mentors rather than talk solely about skills, says Suzanne Livingston, a director at IBM Food Trust, a blockchain-based platform that traces food through supply chains.

"Working through real issues helps build rapport," Livingston says. "It also shows strengths and improvement areas a mentor relationship can build on," she said.

What is something you believed about yourself that you later found out to be untrue?

Don't hesitate to ask about your mentor's history with doubts and self-limiting beliefs, says Sam Raue Hebert, the vice president of production at Jellyvision, a software company. "Hearing what others have learned about themselves can help you identify and articulate where you're selling yourself short."

Is this worth worrying about?

Don't be afraid to ask what you should and shouldn't be worrying about in your life and early career, says Sophia Dominguez, CEO and co-founder of SVRF, a search engine for virtual reality content.

"When I was younger, I spent a lot of time worrying about things that really did not matter and I wish I could relay those learnings to my mentee."

Where did you think your career would lead?

Ask mentors about where they thought their career was going when they first started out, says Amanda Loh, software engineer at NIO, an electric car maker.

"No one's career trajectories are perfect, and rarely anyone knows where they will end up in a couple years. I think a lot of mentees think a mentor is someone who is going to help them plan out their career trajectory, when really a mentor is a guide to assist the mentee in traversing the unpredictability that life may bring."

Learning about a mentor's more non-traditional path can inspire and uplift a mentee in times of "stress or difficulty," she says.

"When I was younger, I spent a lot of time worrying about things that really did not matter." - Sophia Dominguez, CEO and co-founder of SVRF, a search engine for virtual reality content

How much do you make?

Asking about salary can be awkward or uncomfortable. But Lara Cohen, global head of partnership solutions at Twitter, says that mentees should ask it.

"I think it's important, especially for women, to be open about negotiating and knowing their worth," she says.

Be vulnerable, and don't be afraid to ask the uncomfortable questions, advises Freia Lobo, associate product manager at Twitter.

"It's the best way to get the most out of your relationship with your mentor," she says.

What do I need to do to get where I want to go?

Our experts stressed the need for mentees to clearly communicate what they want and need and how their mentors can help. Putting together a roadmap with your mentor can focus your conversations.

It can also ensure you're being thoughtful about your choices as you make them. After all, "many people make reactionary decisions instead of calculated ones" based on a clear and thoughtful plan, says Jackie Mattox, founder and president of professional group Women in Electronics.

How can I keep learning?

It's important that you ask about how you can learn effectively and consistently, explains Tracey Welson-Rossman, the founder and CEO of TechGirlz, nonprofit that advances girls in tech.

"Continuous learning is an imperative part of remaining relevant and advancing in your career," she says.

Many times questions in a mentoring relationship are focused on immediate day-to-day problems and challenges. But it's key to step back and see the bigger picture, adds Jeana Feely, a regional chapter chair in San Diego for Women in Electronics.

"The bigger picture gets missed when we focus on guidance for the little things. It's important to take a step back and utilize the mentoring relationship for long-term growth and career progression," she says.

Strategies for success

To get the most out these above questions, forge a relationship that's based on honesty and clear communication, our experts recommend. That approach will ensure every exchange is helpful, thoughtful and beneficial.

Be casual and get real

Take time to get to know your mentor in an informal setting, says Jesar Shah, product manager at Twitter.

"I think a mentee could get more out of the relationship if [conversations] extended beyond the confines of a meeting room," she says.

And make sure you relax and show up as your authentic self, says Gina Ma, senior director of driver journey for Lyft.

"Rather than asking traditional interview questions and trying to look polished in front of a mentor, it's much more powerful to reveal what truly makes you tick and tap into learning from that point of view," she says.

"The real benefit of a mentor-mentee relationship is getting to know someone personally and having that element of trust, so that you can help someone become their truest and best self."

Gina Ma, senior director of Driver Journey at Lyft
Gina Ma, senior director of Driver Journey at Lyft

Follow up with your mentors

As a mentor, you often won't get immediate feedback from your mentee on how you've helped them, says Deb Liu, vice president of Facebook Marketplace and co-founder of Women in Product.

"It is hard to say whether the time and work I am investing is paying off for the mentee. Having a mentee come to me and close the loop on advice I gave them is really gratifying and makes me more invested in their success and the relationship," she says.

Mentees who show initiative to listen to advice and follow up are the ones who mentors want to invest in. "Like any relationship, building trust is critical," she adds.

Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!

Don't miss:

A historic number of women were elected in 2018—these four are expected to run for president in 2020

A new study suggests women earn about half what men earn