Sunday, March 23, 2008

Finding a mentor

One of the most valuable things you can do after graduation is find a mentor to help offer career advice. However, Tim O'Brien claims in an article that many young professionals step into the relationship unclear on what they want to get out of it.

In a nutshell, Tim claims that many mentees are so focused on the short term (for example, 'help me find a job now') that they lose sight of the long-term benefits a mentor can bring to them.

A mentor can be an invaluable resource, helping to guide you along your career path and sharing useful tips along the way. Tim shares the below tips to help young professionals establish fair expectations of what a mentor/mentee relationship should look like:

  • Mentoring is different from a job search. Job hunting is necessary to land that first or second job, but it's short term by nature. Mentoring is all about long-term professional development.
  • View a mentor as someone who can do great things to help you if you invest yourself, just as a good mentor does, in the relationship.
  • Earn your mentor's trust and respect by proving yourself through your work ethic and attitude.
  • Don't make initial introductions via e-mail. Call. Then meet.
  • Make a solid relationship with your mentor the only objective, but do not confuse mentoring with therapy or socializing. Keep it professional.
  • Pepper your mentor with every question that comes to mind. Be sensitive when making requests, but don't fear to ask at the right time. At the same time, don't put deadlines on when you expect the mentor to do something for you. That's always his or her prerogative.

I would also add that, to get the most out of the relationship, you must be open, honest and willing to take constructive feedback. You should also be proactive about the feedback you want to receive. For example, if there is something specific you want to discuss send your mentor an e-mail ahead of time and say “I would like to discuss…” so that they are accurately prepared for the conversation. Along the same lines, it is always helpful to send an agenda beforehand.

If you don't know the person you are asking to be your mentor, I would recommend sending them a quick e-mail introducing yourself and how you are connected to them. Then explain that you are looking for a mentor to help you along your career path and offer to buy them a cup of coffee to get acquainted.

Last little tip (and this is just my personal preference) – If you and your mentor meet for coffee or lunch, it would be a kind gesture to pick up the tab. Remember, your mentor is taking time out of their schedule to meet with you; it is always kind to return the favor.

Where to look for a mentor

So now you know what a mentor, how do you go about finding one? Below I have listed a few places you can start looking:

  1. PRSA - If you are a PRSSA or PRSA member, most chapters offer a mentorship program you can sign up for. It is fairly simple; you just sign up on the local PRSA Web site and fill out a few short questions, and voila! PRSA does the pairing for you! If your local PRSA chapter doesn’t offer a formal mentorship program, look and see if they at least have a directory of names, or perhaps try sending the chapter president a quick e-mail asking if he/she knows of anyone who would make a good mentor.
  2. Your College Alumni Association/Alumni Directory - Many colleges and Universities have a directory of people and some even have formal mentorship programs as well. Again, this takes being proactive on your part, but most people are more than willing to help out a fellow alum.
  3. Your Company – If you are already employed, many companies have a mentorship program that you can sign up for to get paired with another mentor from within your company. However, if your company doesn't have a program like this in place, simply ask your manager or a coworker if they know of someone who would be a good mentor.

If all else fails, ask around. Chances are if you ask your old professors, parents, neighbors or family friends, they will know someone who would be willing to mentor you. A year ago my dad was talking to patient of his about his daughter who was studying PR - turns out she owned a boutique PR agency in Portland and was looking for interns! I sent her my resume and 3 days later I had a month long internship to keep me busy during Winter break.

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