Mentoring is an effective way of guiding your career path, but selecting a mentor and creating a productive relationship isn't easy. And when you've got mounting projects and papers to write, who has time to commit? A little research and planning can go a long way. Before casting your net into the pool of potential mentors, consider what you want out of mentoring. Here's how:
Create Your Criteria
Success—Good mentors don't necessarily have to be CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, but it is necessary to research their experience and commitment to their industry. Have they won awards or received current certifications? How long they have been in the field? Remember too that all experiences-good and bad-are instructive.
Commitment and Availability—Select a mentor who can commit to you and your educational needs. Beyond their boardroom, classroom, hospital or rectory (depending on your discipline), a mentor who is informed about your curriculum can also offer guidance concerning your graduate program, such as selecting courses that will best prepare you for your career. Ask if they've mentored before or if they regularly attend alumni events? Because curriculum and projects are different for each student it is beneficial if your mentor shares similar interests and has some experience with the issues you may want to tackle in a major paper for example. Assess how much time you want to spend with your mentor and discuss the possibility of shadowing them in their professional environment.
Jobs Jobs Jobs—When Alexis Bonnell entered her final year at the Marketing and Management School at New York University, she hoped her mentor would "champion" her among his peers and help guide her career path. "I knew with my mentor's connections and insight, he would help me find job solutions quicker and would be a great conduit to meeting people of insight and importance," she said. If you want a mentor to help you navigate the job market, polish your interviewing techniques and possibly introduce you to potential employers, a good pick is a mentor currently working in the field or position most closely resembling your intended career path. Read industry papers and articles to identify which companies and individuals are generating news
How To Approach a Prospective Mentor
Now that you've done your research it is best to approach a prospective mentor through a letter that outlines your reason for choosing them, specifically what you hope to learn from them, the time commitment and some personal interests of your own. Follow up with a phone call. Your formality will convey respect for their time and show commitment to your goals. When you have established the relationship, you may then mutually agree upon more convenient ways to communicate, such as email.
What to Expect
"To assume a leadership role can make or break you," said Claire Williams, an administrator of the Asbury Theological Seminary Ministry Program. Williams described Asbury's mentor program as a time "to glean from an experienced mind what to do and what not to do." Being mentored means proactively seeking new ways to learn from your mentor. Always have a handful of conversation topics prepared. But be careful not to set the bar too high. If you arrange to meet with your mentor weekly when in reality you are both too busy, neither party will reach their goals.
Mentor programs are now benefiting from technology. Alumni near and far mentor students through listservs and on-line directories. Listservs create a convenient forum for students to pose questions or discussion topics to a network of alumni for a range of opinions.
Finding the right mentor will be one of the biggest challenges of your graduate studies and also one of the most fulfilling.