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Consider a Professional Mentor

Have you ever wondered what your classmates are talking about when they refer to their mentor? Why are they important? And how do you go about finding one?

A mentor could be younger or older than the mentee, but what sets them apart is the mentor's level of experience or depth of knowledge in a particular area or field. A mentorship program is beneficial for personal development as well as professional development. Typically a mentorship program would include a person of less experience and a person of more experience sharing ideas and thoughts over the area of interest.

Aside from building a professional relationship with someone in the workforce, mentorships may provide you with new skills, knowledge, contacts, or even new job opportunities. More than likely, if you find a mentor that is really interested in your professional development, they will become more of a career coach helping you build your resume, assisting with obstacles you may encounter, or encouraging opportunities for development in your career path.

What's the difference between a great mentor and an OK mentor?

A good mentor will listen to what you are saying. There are three stages of listening.

  • Stage 1: Internal Listing – listening to our own internal thoughts and judgement; the listener focuses on how to relate to the person’s response.
  • Stage 2: Focused Listing – listening to what the other person is saying; the listener will probe with more questions or summarize what you are saying to build trust.
  • Stage 3: Global Listening – listening to the words being spoken; the listener is focusing on all that you are saying and doing including your body language and gestures to gain intuition. 

Not all mentors will created equal.  A mentor who provides you with all the great things that they have done may not be as concerned about your development. Although it is great to hear how the mentor has created success for themselves, you will want to find someone that helps turn your experiences into successes.

Additionally, be mindful of mentors who discourage you because your path differs from their own.  Much research on “social similarity” or “similarity-attraction” effects suggest that most mentors will have a positive reaction to paths you take that are similar to their own and a negative reaction to paths that differ from their past choices.   

Does this mean that a mentorship program is all about your personal interest? Absolutely NOT.

You have to give a mentor a reason to be interested in your career or personal goals. Starting with building rapport. Mind Tools, which assists over 25 million people with their job skills annually, suggests beginning with finding a common ground, focusing on your appearance, being empathic, using mirroring (reflect the mentors verbal and nonverbal language), and remembering the basics (smiling, sincere conversations, eye contact, and open-ended questions). Good mentors are more likely to have others seeking their advice as well. Be prepared. Come to your mentor meeting with conversation topics you'd like to cover.

Lastly, be aware that mentorship can either be formal or informal. Joining a professional organization often gives people good first contacts to find mentors once a positive rapport is built. Refer to Professional Organization: To Join or Not to Join to learn more. Some companies offer mentorship programs for interns, co-ops, and other employees. When considering a company to work for, consider asking the organization what types of programs they have for development. Informal mentorships typically develop more organically and is likely based on chemistry between the the mentor and mentee.

“A mentor empowers a person to see a possible future, and believe it can be obtained.”
-Shawn Hitchcock

About the author

Lauren Verhoff

Lauren Verhoff is a Graduate Administrative Associate with Engineering Career Services.