As a student mentee in the Mentorship Program at the University of Minnesota College of Design, I was paired with graduates and professionals who offered advice, instruction and guidance that helped me move toward my graphic design goals. My involvement with the mentorship program helped prepare me for the competitive job market I was about to enter.
It was such a useful experience that as soon as I graduated, I flipped the switch to become a mentor myself. Since 2010, I’ve made myself available to the program to help design students work toward their educational or career goals. Sure, I want to “pay it forward” to students whose position I’ve been in – but there are also mutually-beneficial outcomes of mentoring, like networking and keeping an eye on the U’s upcoming design talent.
Each mentorship looks different; sometimes, it means helping students shore up their portfolios; other times, it’s getting them ready for an interview; occasionally, it’s helping them put the finishing touches on a final project. In my experience, regardless of the program’s content, there are a few basic things to keep in mind when starting out as a mentor.
Find an organization where you can actually be useful
No matter how much of a “jack of all trades” you might be, we’re all better at some things than others. Find an organization that seems like a good fit for your area of expertise, whether it’s design, public relations, marketing or web design. Finding a program in which you fit will make all the difference in being a good fit for a mentee.
Create a plan
The better you know your mentee’s goals, the more useful you can be to them as a source of insight. Decide what kind of schedule and communication tactics will best serve both parties’ goals, availability and attention span (be it in-person, by phone, email, Skype or what have you) and create a structure that works for both of you.
The best mentor/mentee relationships are symbiotic, allowing both to benefit from each interaction – mentee from career advancement, and you from networking opportunities and generating goodwill. Their need for guidance will develop as your expertise influences how they visualize their path. Getting the most out of the pairing often means adapting to a student’s shifting priorities and goals – after all, they’re paired with you because they probably don’t have their long-term plans set in stone.
Stay in touch
As I mentioned, networking with mentees and other mentors is one of the significant benefits of entering a mentoring program. Maintaining these relationships beyond the scope of a single program provides even more opportunity to cultivate professional connections and further develop your own future goals.
To find out how you can become a mentor, check out a few of these resources:
Contact your local PRSA branch or other industry association
Call your alma mater or local college
Investigate community programs near you
Ask around about mentoring opportunities – coworkers, colleagues, friends, etc.
Mentoring is a personally and professionally rewarding way to stay connected to your industry. It can also help increase your presence and mentorship expertise to position yourself and your brand as an active source of knowledge, insight and outreach.