The importance of a mentor
With this being my first post with the Student Branding Blog, I decided to reflect back on my career and how I got started as a career counselor. Overwhelmingly, the presence of a mentor was a major factor that led to significant events that furthered my career. While there are many strategies to find an internship or job that will help you to gain experience and knowledge in your field, a mentor can help you once you land that position.
What is a mentor?
A mentor is someone who can help you find your path in something that you desire. They can be “a trusted friend, counselor or teacher, usually a more experienced person.” (See a definition by wikipedia.) Typically, the mentor-mentee relationship is much more involved versus a networking contact.
Importance of a mentor
A mentor can help you grow professionally as well as expand your network of contacts.
Let’s take a look at the career of Michael Jordan. When most people think of him, they conjure up images of “Air Jordans”, NBA championships, and MVP trophies. His career has taken him to point where he is now a global brand equally recognizable for his endorsements as well as his sporting achievements. However, we often forget that he failed quite often in the beginning of his career. It wasn’t until he met his coach, Phil Jackson, that he took his play to the next level. Not only did Coach Jackson teach Michael Jordan how to maximize his great physical tools, he also taught Michael how to be a leader and team player.
How to find one
I was lucky enough to have others reach out and guide me along my career. I admit that there were times when I was younger that I may have passed up mentoring relationships- I realize that this was because I was not ready. I have had mentors that have been twice my age and some that have been younger than me. The common denominator was that they saw something in me and wanted to see me succeed.
A mentor can be a boss, co-worker, parent, professor, or anyone you can think of that is able to provide a learning relationship. You can also look for a mentor by:
- Asking your school’s alumni association or career center if they have an established program
- Becoming a member of professional organizations and seeking out a mentor
- Using social media (LinkedIn or Twitter allow you easy access to professionals)
- Checking-in with your current workplace to see if there is a formal program
- Networking through family and friends
- Volunteering or getting involved with programs related to your field of interest
- “Googling” the word “mentor” for programs that can connect you to professionals
Probably the most valuable trait to have when looking for a mentor is to be open to possibilities.
What to look for in a mentor
A mentor is someone who can help you grow and someone you can confide in. However, not everyone may be willing or able to provide that relationship to you.
- Trustworthiness-You both should be able to have open and honest communication. A mentor is someone who can advocate for you on your behalf.
- Knowledge-A mentor should have knowledge in the area that you are looking to develop.
- Openess-While your mentor will provide you with knowledge and opportunity for growth, you may have your own great ideas! You want a mentor that will help you focus your own creativity rather than just repeating things that have been done.
- Shared interests/values-Since you will be spending a decent amount of time together, it is important to ensure that you and your mentor have similar beliefs and goals.
How to nurture the relationship
Once you have connected with a mentor, it is important to communicate about your mutual expectations.
You may want to come to an understanding regarding how often you will communicate, what you are looking for feedback on and what style of working relationship will work for you both. Additionally, it is also wise to recognize that the mentor will typically be giving more by nature of the relationship. Therefore, it is imporant to show them respect and gratitude.Your mentor may gain satisfaction by seeing you grow and succeed-so sharing how grateful you are for the relationship is helpful. Additionally, remember not to rely too much on your mentor-they may need their own space to get other aspects of their job done or simply just to recharge. Try to remember this and not take offense if your mentor needs space.
I would love to hear about your take on mentors. Have you had a great mentor? Are there certain traits that you look for? Please share in the comments section.
Joe is a career counselor at San Jose State University. His areas of specialization include: experiential education, resume development, interview preparation, job search strategy, and assessment inventories. In his role, he also serves as the community manager for the Career Center’s social media outlets. Connect with Joe on Twitter or follow samplings of his work via the SJSU Career Center Blog and Facebook fan page.