Monday, September 29, 2008

Get yourself a mentor!

You're not alone in this world. And you couldn't be. If you drive, someone needs to have designed a car; someone needs to have made it; someone needs to have paved the road. Same goes in your career: others have paved the road before you. And you need to talk to them. Here's a few tips from Tech Women's meet up at Apple last Thursday:

  • Why would someone want to be my mentor in the first place?

    Mentoring is a rewarding experience, and the mentor will grow from it too. Thing about it - how many times will you have the opportunity to directly influence someone's life? To be able to say, that person is succeeding, and I had to do something with it? Done right, mentoring is a win-win. So go ahead - find a mentor!
    And remember:
    For you: an opportunity to learn.
    For them: an opportunity to share knowledge.

  • So how do I find a mentor anyway?

    The short answer: Just Ask!
    Most mentorships are informal, and mentors usually accept when they see a fit, and see someone who is committed.

    If you are in any big organization (and that applies to if you're still in college), ask someone at a higher level. The worse they can say is "no". It's better if you find someone outside of your team, but consider that as an option too. If you want to change fields, learn another skill, you can go outside of your "Title zone". Cross-functional mentorships are mutually beneficial as well: you both get to learn something complete different that may open new opportunities, give you a better insights, etc.

    If you're in a small company or on your own, find someone through LinkedIn! LinkedIn is a great resource to find advice. Use the search tool to find people in the desired field; email them through LinkedIn and ask if they could mentor you. Or, go to the "Answers" questions and ask if someone in your area would like to mentor you. Also consider local Chambers of Commerces as great resources. They usually have weekly or monthly meetings, most are free, and you can meet with people who you already know are near you. If not, ask around, someone may know someone else!

  • When in a first meeting, come prepared

    What's the secret of a great mentor/mentee relationship? Concrete goals. So come with these goals. It can be short term, as in "I have this big presentation to do and I don't know anything about presenting. I have 26 days" or it can be "I want to find a job as in Marketing at a creative company and I don't know where to start", or even "I'm petrified when speaking in public. In 5 months, I'd like to be comfortable speaking with notecards". The more concrete the goal (it can be a $$ amount you want to make, a number of years you give yourself to reach X position, etc), the better.
    Also on the first meeting, it's better if you bring something concrete with you, a palpable object, to break the ice, and get the conversation going (this is my resume, this is the object I have to present, etc).

  • Get the details down

    The things that break relationships would surprise you. Break it down: is it ok for me to call you on your cellphone? or email? or is it better face to face? Are there certain days/hours that are out of boundaries? How many times week / month will we talk/see each other? And will this be a short-term or a long-term mentorship?

  • Follow up

    You need a mentor. You have a mentor. So it's your job to keep your mentor. Don't expect your mentor to chase you down. Your mentor is probably very busy, so even if they're committed to mentoring you, sometimes, other things may make them forget. It is up to you to drive and manage this relationship.

    Once you're done: Give your mentor an update. It's OK to say, it didn't work, I still need help. Coming back to a mentor is an acknowledgment that it worked for you. It's great to have feedback, and if you did well, it'll be priceless for them to know they had a direct role in your success.

Questions? Comments? Email carolineblogs at gmail dot com

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