by Liz Fisher
When I saw this photo from the Southwest NEXTwork Launch, depicting one participant’s request for advice to newly minted young adult engagement professionals:
the big pink scrawl “find a mentor” jumped out at me.
During the course of my own career, I have had several mentors. Of those people I would call mentors, some would say they mentored me, but others did so from afar and might be surprised to hear how much I learned from watching them. I wouldn’t be where I am without these guides.
At NEXT, we are committed to building the field of young adult engagement professionals. Part of that work is helping you identify and connect with mentors. Here are my tips:
- Choose your boss. I know this is hard and circumstances often prevent this from happening, but the person who supervises you is your real-time guide. When you have the luxury of making career choices, choose to work for someone who knows things you don’t and who will push and teach you.
- Ask authentic questions. Relationship begins by getting to know the other person. Before you ask about you, and certainly before you ask for favors, learn as much as you can about the other person. Make it authentic. Don’t ask about things you don’t care about. If there isn’t anything you genuinely want to know about the other person–how they got to where they are, and why they do the things they do–they are not the right mentor for you.
- Mentoring is not networking. Don’t seek out mentors under the false guise of wanting to learn when you really just want them to know who you are. Find another way to meet and impress those people. Send them a blog post you wrote. Engage them in work-related conversation. Try to get on one of their projects. Mention them on Twitter. But don’t waste their time pretending to ask for advice if you don’t care.
- Follow through. Say thank you. Every time. When you do ask for advice, follow through and tell them how it went. As a mentor, there is nothing more frustrating then having coffee with someone, giving them a ton of advice about their career search, for instance, and then never hearing where they land, or how it is going.
- Learn what you can where you can. You don’t need to take everything from one person. We all have strengths and weaknesses. That brilliant speaker with bad relationship skills? Learn the speaking, ignore the rest. The person who everyone loves but gets nothing done? Learn the relationship skills, ignore the lack of execution.
- If you are a woman, seek out women a generation or two older than you as mentors. Gender still matters in our field, and it’s helpful to have that perspective.
- If you are a woman, don’t only seek out women. See above: gender still matters, and it’s helpful to have a powerful man or two in your camp.
- Say thank you. I’m saying it twice because it is so important. Let people know when they have helped you. Give them credit publicly if you can.
- Pay it forward. Mentor someone else. Take the calls and emails from people who want to connect with you. Make time for others the way people are making time for you.
- Contact us! Call your NEXT Regional Director. Tell us what you are looking for and we will help you find someone to connect with. Or contact me! I’m firstname.lastname@example.org, or @liz_fisher on Twitter, and I love speaking with professionals in the field.
Stay tuned for more posts inspired by our NEXTwork Launch. In the meantime, see what young adult engagement professionals are talking about by searching the #NEXTwork hashtag on Twitter.
Liz Fisher is the managing director at NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation.