Dr. Kathryn Broyles, Ph.D., Program Director of General Studies at American Public University/American Military University, details how mentoring will benefit your career:
Maybe you’re on the job market for the first time. You’ve just finished high school or college and you’re ready to make your mark – ready to build a life for yourself and stand on your own two feet. Or maybe you’ve recently lost a job you loved and did well for many years and you’re working to retool your resume. Or perhaps you’ve determined you want more out of life and given the current economic situation you’ve decided to head your career in an entirely new direction.
No matter where you are in your career and no matter what your employment status, there’s a good chance that you could benefit from mentoring. Finding a good mentor is not always easy, but when you find one, their friendship and advice can be invaluable.
Catherine Apitz in a short article for the on-line journal Circles of Seven, lists a number of famous mentors and mentees from all walks of life. An example of note from the world of popular music is Jerry Wexler, music journalist, record producer, chairman of Atlantic Records, who mentored a number of musicians including Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Linda Ronstadt, Ray Charles and Willie Nelson. From the world of classical music, Israeli violinist and conductor, Isaac Stern, mentored the effervescent talents of cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Oprah Winfrey speaks often of the lessons she’s learned from Poet Maya Angelou.
What do mentors do? Mentors can introduce you to new acquaintances and new business contacts you might otherwise never have met. Mentors can help you avoid career mistakes by sharing with you their own stories and the processes and pitfalls they’ve learned from a long the way.
Mentors can challenge you to push yourself to new heights physically or intellectually – point you to the education you’ll need to succeed. Often, mentors are interested in supervising or helping you evaluate a particular project you’re working on or in answering questions and offering suggestions along the way as you work independently on that project.
Career Tip: In all areas of life, mentors can be of benefit to us, but they are an especially wonderful tool and support when we’re looking to improve our employment situation.
Who should serve as a mentor? Your big brother or your former football coach may be wonderful individuals, and great life coaches, but a mentor with experience in a field you’re seeking success within can offer insights and direction you often cannot anticipate needing. If you’re on a job hunt, or seeking to retool for a new career, look for a successful professional from whom you can learn. It’s important that you not only find someone that you enjoy working with but also someone who believes in your potential and has a vested interest in your success. It’s also helpful if your mentor is someone with concrete experience in the field you’re pursuing, though it’s not a necessity.
Career Tip: The traits of leadership and the habits that lead to success in one field will often lead to accomplishment in others.
How do I work with a mentor? When establishing a relationship with a mentor, it’s important to clarify whether he or she truly has time to help you and has the expertise to do so. Being clear about your needs and expectations and being respectful of their time is crucial if your work together is to be successful. You must also be willing to hear criticism, and to communicate clearly even in the midst of challenges in order to maintain a good relationship with another professional who has agreed to mentor you. Whether you meet with your mentor weekly, or Skype monthly, the encouragement and advice such a relationship can provide may be just what you need to get into–or move ahead in–a new career.
Where do I find a mentor? Good mentors are valuable. Be willing to work hard to establish a connection with a potential mentor. Think outside the box as well as look close to home for a professional you respect, from whom you can learn, and by whom you want to be guided or shaped. Ask friends, family, and colleagues if they can put you in touch with someone who might help you in your career.
If you’re just graduating, consider taking an internship (even an unpaid one) in order to gain experience in a field you want to pursue and from that experience you’ll likely gain not only a resume reference but a mentor in the form of a boss or colleague. Former professors can sometimes be great mentors as well. Social media sites like Linked-In can be another way to connect with a potential mentor. Don’t overlook mentoring networks maintained by professional organizations or alumni affairs offices as a source of valuable advice either.
Where can I learn more?
- A great interview with Lynn Chambers-Ketchens, published on-line by the Missouri Institute of Mental Health. discusses clearly some very helpful ways to understand a mentoring relationship:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBwSZpjh1yU
- Link to two articles on mentoring published by Law PracticeTODAY here: http://apps.americanbar.org/lpm/lpt/articles/mgt08041.html
- A lengthy but very readable article by Katherine Hansen, Ph.D. on finding a mentor can itself be found here: http://www.quintcareers.com/mentor_value.html
Thanks Kathryn, your advice is greatly appreciated. For those interested in learning more about American Public University/American Military University, where they are expanding access to higher education with more than 100 affordable degrees and certificates to prepare students for service and leadership in a diverse and global society, visit their website at www.apus.edu.
Danny Huffman, MA, CEIP, CPRW, CPCC
Got Twitter? Shadow me @DannyatECS