Top tips for finding and forming mentorships from a career expert
Whether or not mentorships take place formally or informally, research says that they can be highly beneficial for both mentor and mentee. It’s unsurprising why 70% of Fortune 500 companies offer some form of a mentoring programme.
Mentorships see a more experienced person (a mentor) sharing their knowledge, advice, and skills or experience with someone less experienced (a mentee) to help them progress personally and/or professionally.
The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey: Winning over the next generation of leaders report, for instance, found that six in 10 millennials benefit from having somebody to turn to for advice, or who helps develop their leadership skills.
It’s not just younger cohorts of staff who benefit from mentorships but also professionals from across the board.
Deloitte Global CEO Punit Renjen was quoted saying in the report: “There is really no secret (to success) and there surely are no shortcuts. In my case, it was a pretty simple equation: hard work + some lucky breaks + great mentors.”
These relationships are also useful for graduate students.
“Research shows that mentees generally perform better in their programmes and after they get out of school” than students without mentors, said W. Brad Johnson, PhD, a psychology professor at the US Naval Academy and author of books about mentoring, via the American Psychological Association (APA).
“Students tend to get tied into the mentor’s network of colleagues, and that creates more open doors.”
Graduate students with mentors are also likely to be more satisfied with their programmes, be more involved in professional organisations and have a stronger sense of professional identity, said Johnson.
Similarly, WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management MBA Careers Center director Dr Christine Menges echoed the benefits of a mentoring programme, adding that they are great for graduate students’ career and personal development.
“I’ve seen it many times how people have grown not just personally, but also professionally, so I do strongly believe in mentoring programmes. Everyone should have access to mentors in one way or another,” she the career development and mentoring expert via a Zoom interview with U2B.
Finding the right mentor
Seeing the benefits of mentorships, how can graduate students find the right mentors?
One of the easiest ways to do so is to be part of a formal mentoring programme. If there are no such programmes available, students can seek out mentors themselves.
Dr Menges’ advice is to think clearly about what you want to achieve by having a mentor before looking for someone.
For instance, do you hope to gain industry insights from your mentor? Do you want to explore the type of job function that would be relevant to you? Do you hope to get some feedback on your working style?
Once you’ve identified your goal, consider looking into your past as to who could be a potential mentor as that would be easier than reaching out to a stranger. This could be a teacher, a trainer or coach, someone you met from volunteer work, or even a boss or supervisor whom you found inspiring.
“Reach out to them and tell them that you’re looking for support,” she said, adding that it’s also important to be specific about what you’re looking for.
You might not want to start off by saying, “I want you to be my mentor” when connecting with them as that can be overwhelming.
Instead, you could say that you’re looking for advice, for instance, about a specific industry or sector before pursuing your studies in the field and that you would like to have a conversation with them to explore it.
After the conversation, you could share that you’ve benefited from their advice and would like to have it on a regular basis. You could propose a mentoring relationship where you set goals and have an agenda for each meeting, as well as a guideline over what’s expected, to make it effective.
What mentees should know
It’s important to set an end date for mentorships. For example, after six months, both mentor and mentee can assess whether or not to continue their mentoring relationship.
It’s worth highlighting that mentoring is not a one-way street. A mentor shares their time and expertise with a mentee, who in return should also think of ways they can give back.
Dr Menges explained that many students make the mistake of thinking that they have nothing to offer or contribute to their mentors, but there are many ways of doing so.
This could be something as simple as liking the content they wrote on LinkedIn, sharing and commenting on their blogs and posts, or even sharing links to articles that they might find useful.
Current students at the forefront of knowledge, learning case studies and up-to-date research on specific topics, and thus are in a good position to share articles with people whom you’d like to have as a mentor.
“So give them something to help them to get ahead as well,” said Dr Menges. “Always think from the perspective of not just taking information, but giving and sharing information. This kind of give and take relationship is really, really important.”
Mentorships often take more time than students might think and requires dedication and motivation to continue. It’s also important to be open to constructive feedback as you’ll not always receive feedback you want to hear.
Despite that, it’s important as a mentee to be open to it in order to learn and grow.
At the end of the day, having a mentor isn’t about ticking a box because everyone says you should have a mentor. It’s also essential to draw and make decisions from what you plan to do with this feedback, later on, explained Dr Menges.