Every student needs a mentor! Why? Because mentors are very important. Most people I’ve ever met who were stuck in their life or career, I dare say, were severely under-mentored.
In times past, mentoring was probably more of an automatic process: you grew up working alongside your parents on the family business, or apprenticed with a craftsperson or another business owner. These days, you often have to work a little harder to find mentors.
Mentoring is generally a more expansive, less-structured form of teaching, in which you gain not just knowledge, but wisdom and perspective.
For a student, having a mentor can be particularly useful for life and career planning, and for guiding you through complex projects that would be hard to learn solely through books: for instance, entrepreneurship. Mentors are also often well connected, and use their connections to help their mentees. A single phone call from a mentor may be all it takes to get you a new job or a new customer for your business.
Little wonder that proper mentoring can take years or even decades off the time it takes you to succeed at your goals – or spell the difference between success and failure.
Ideally, every student should have at least one mentor for every important area in their life, including not just your education or career but relationship, personal finance, and any passionate avocations like art or political activism. You can also have mentors for life’s smaller challenges. For instance, your brother-in-law who has a very good dress-sense could mentor you on fashion and grooming.
Many under-mentored people assume that mentors are in short supply, and also that potential mentors would be unwilling to work with them. This is not so! Mentors are everywhere, and many of them are glad to help.
Here are a few tips for students to find and work with mentors:
1. Don’t Force It
Mentors tend to be busy people who get asked for help a lot; sometimes by people (or students) who are not serious or focused. Therefore, when approaching a potential mentor, make sure she (or he) understands that you are one of the serious ones.
How? Make specific, focused, personalized and reasonable request. An example is, “I saw your recent article on why crafting a very brilliant resumé is good for a job search and it was amazing. I’m working on a resumé to sell myself to potential employers and I’m running into a bit of trouble showcasing my most relevant skills. Would you be willing to talk with me for 5 or 10 minutes at your convenience on how I could format my resumé to highlight my best skills?”
Note that the asker does not ask the listener to “be my mentor,” or even use the word “mentor.” What you’re asking for right now is a favor, not a relationship: if the relationship is destined to develop, it will. Don’t force it.
Many people will respond positively to such a request – including me and some whom you might think too busy or famous. Of course, others won’t. If you get rejected by a potential mentor, don’t take it to heart – go right out and ask someone else.
If your initial conversation goes well, there’s a good chance the person will invite you to stay in touch or come back with other questions. Now you have the beginnings of a mentor relationship.
2. Be Professional. Always
When calling or visiting a mentor, be prompt, prepared and focused. Don’t go past the agreed-on time – although, if the mentor is enjoying the conversation, he/she might not mind, which is fine.
In your discussion, focus on problem-solving, rather than on how miserable the problem is making you feel. It is a good practise to send a sincere and heartfelt thank you note afterwards.
3. Expand Your Network
Sometime during every discussion with a mentor, you should ask something like, “Do you know of anyone else who might be able to advise me on this situation?” And then, of course, if he/she makes a recommendation, follow through. This will help you build your mentor network.
4. Stay in Touch
If you contact your mentors only when you need help, they will probably feel used. This is true for every human being (and not just mentors). Instead, contact them every few weeks/months just to let them know how things are going, and especially to share any relevant good news.
Mentoring should be a two-way street. Even mentors who are very successful, appreciate – and expect – return value. Sometimes, it can be hard to see what you can usefully offer a more-successful mentor. But every mentor appreciates receiving thoughtful gifts or an offer of help when their own schedules get crowded. And, finally…
Yes, YOU should be a mentor. First, because mentoring fosters your own growth and success and, second, because it’s good karma to give back. Mentoring others freshens your outlook, sharpens your strengths and skills, and exposes you to new people and viewpoints.
So get out there and find a junior colleague, student, or someone else to mentor. Think you don’t know enough to be a mentor? Think again: I’ve never met anyone who didn’t have valuable wisdom or experience to impart. So, go forth and be mentored – and mentor!
As a student, mentoring is a precious relationship. One that will serve you well in time to come. Don’t ignore that part of your education. The process might not always be sweet, but you will come out a better person in the end.
Remember, your mentor is human, and can have his/her flaws, especially in other areas of their lives. Stay focused on the lessons you’re learning and take your eyes away from their flaws.
A good place to start is to check out AfriGrowth’s Youth Mentoring Program.