I'm continuing the trend of sounding off on topics you hear from "practically everybody" for good career moves. This week's topic: The importance of developing relationships with accessible mentors.
There are many studies which s peak to the effectiveness of having a good mentor: find one at your work and the chance that you'll stick at your job will increase. Find one who can help you carve out your career path in your intended field, and you have a better chance of making a longer term impact with speed.
Today's topic focuses on how to find and keep a good mentor. This was inspired by an e-mail I received from a young professional in my field: a year ago, I met with this individual for an informational interview. We talked for 30 minutes, she let me know when she got a great job at a university career office, and that's the last I'd heard of her.
Until three weeks ago, when I received a form e-mail (sent to an anonymous audience) which began "Dear Mentor." The e-mail provided a brief update on the sender's year ("I survived"), then asked for suggestions on grad school ("should I pursue a second Master's degree?") and advice for keeping up with trends in the field.
Here was my response:
I'm delighted to hear from you, and pleased that to hear of your progress. That being said, I wasn't aware that you were interested in having me serve as one of your mentors as we'd only met once. If you are in search of closer personal relationships with potential mentors, here are a few strategies you might take into consideration:
1. Personalize your approach. Sending a mass e-mail that reads "Dear Mentor" does not inspire personal connections. While the sentiment is genuine, the approach doesn't convey interest in other people--I know that is not your intent, but people are a lot less inclined to respond to a mass e-mail.
In this market in particular, ask the question: What is your biggest need?
2. Share and be transparent. Any anecdotes from your first year? Things that surprised you? Trends you think we should know from your work with students? How's the health of recruiting at your school? All of these things might be of interest to your readers, stay away from having the sole focus on your career development--asking questions of others helps stimulate discussion and relationship building.
3. Provide insights into your own long-term goals: Where do you want to hope to be in five years? That will help others advise you on your own goals.
Bottomline: If you want a mentor for the long-term, it's important to be communicative. Stay in touch. Follow up in good times and bad. Be open to receiving genuine feedback, and ask how you can help.