Recently, I was a panellist at a local university event. After the session, a young gentleman approached me with a big smile and offered a long handshake. He expressed how much he had learned from my talk and asked, "Ada, I don't have much work experience, and I don't like my degree. I am about to graduate and don't know what to do now, but I am eager to learn. Could you be my mentor?" His enthusiasm and energy caught my attention; I could see the eagerness in his eyes beyond his glasses. His body language clearly showed that he was at a crossroads and needed guidance for his future. At that moment, it brought back memories of when I was in his position and seeking support…
When I was an international undergraduate student, I had limited connections outside the school circle. To build those connections, I volunteered, attended networking events and worked part-time jobs. My work caught the attention of a consultant, a very approachable lady in her late 50s who was known in her field. Whenever I got the chance to connect with her at work, I felt that she understood me and she could provide me with the information I needed. At the time, I didn't know anything about mentorship; I never knew to ask, “Could you be my mentor?” All I did was ask targeted questions about career search, first at the workplace, then I invited her for coffee outside of work. I cherished each of those meetings and always arrived earlier to ensure we got a good table to sit at and prepared a list of questions. Over time, she helped me better understand goal setting and career establishment. Her guidance supported me from my final year at university to about five years into my career. Even now, I still read the notes I took back then and learned something new each time. I remember asking her why she would continuously invest time and effort in me and never asked anything in return, even when I offered. She said that she has formally and informally mentored over 30 people over the years. Some parted ways earlier in the relationship, while others kept in touch. The trust and growth in the protegees are the source of her motivation. However, the mentees that she continued to support were those exhibiting appreciative attitudes and professional behaviours.
I met my second mentor also at the workplace. He was an HR executive with an open mind and a passion for knowledge sharing. I was a junior staff member in his department. His "open door" policy made me feel comfortable bringing any questions or suggestions. After proving myself through quality work, I started asking more targeted questions about growing my career and got thought-provoking answers. My boss trusted me with enlarged assignments, and eventually, these opportunities helped me land bigger roles elsewhere. We stayed in touch, and he continued to provide guidance and connect me with industry professionals. Although without a formal mentorship agreement, my boss played the role of a great mentor. Simultaneously, I provided support during times that were difficult for him and was able to "reverse mentor" him on technology and trendy industry initiatives. A successful relationship requires investment from both parties. Now, he is an integral part of our consulting team!
Over time, I made it a habit to offer handshakes and ask targeted questions whenever I meet people who have walked the path that I aspire to. Although without a formal mentorship relationship, several people became trusted advisors whom I would turn to for specific questions or challenges. Additionally, I have created my own "peer mentorship" group since becoming an entrepreneur, where we take advantage of learning from each other.
Aside from seeking mentorship, I have also taken on the role of being a mentor. This was made possible by participating in the structured mentorship programs offered by CPHR AB and the university where I graduated. Through these programs, I have gained a better understanding of the fundamental aspects of mentorship and the key factors that contribute to the success of both the mentor and mentee.
Given my own experience, I believe the following factors are critical to successful mentorship:
A clear need for mentorship - The mentees should know why they need a mentor and what kind of mentor would best suit their needs. Similarly, mentors should have a genuine desire to connect and invest in another person for intrinsic purposes.
A connection between the two parties - In other words, the mentor and mentee should be a good match for each other.
Set goals and timelines - Targeted efforts and discussions should be geared towards helping the protegees achieve the goals.
Good professionalism during all interactions - This includes being on time, committed to the goals, being friendly, open-minded, appreciative, supportive and consistent.
"Could you be my mentor?" The student asked again. His question pulled me back from my thoughts. I smiled and said, “Before we proceed, let’s first understand why you need a mentor.”
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