Would you begin a long trip to a place you’ve never been without a GPS, or at least a map? Many university students do exactly that when it comes to planning their future careers. The best equivalent to a GPS or a map for career planning is a career mentor. As a university student, you need to have one.
What Is a Career Mentor?
A career mentor is a someone who is already working in the career that you are planning on entering. That person has already broken through the barriers to entry – that you will soon be hitting yourself. They’ve navigated their way through various career hurdles, and have attained a certain level of success.As a university student, this is the kind of person that you want to get to know so you can benefit from their experience. The idea is to develop a one-on-one relationship with such a person, so that they can help you find your way into your new career. Ideally, a career mentor will become a trusted advisor who you will stay in close contact with at least through the early years of your career.
Why Do You Need a Career Mentor?
It’s generally assumed by many students that their university education will fully prepare them for the career they are entering. But it might be better to think of your degree as a basic foundation, upon which you’ll need to add additional knowledge, understanding, strategies, and experiences. A career mentor can help you with all of those and more.
Some examples include:
Preparing you for the job search. You read books, attend seminars, and watch videos, but nothing will prepare you for the job search better than talking with someone who is already well-placed in the industry. A career mentor can give you the direction that you need to minimize the time and effort that it will take to land your first career-related position. They can do this because they are already an “insider“.
Learning what works – and what doesn’t. In any career, there are certain strategies that work, but don’t necessarily show up in university textbooks. A career mentor can keep you up to speed with these. And just as important, he or she can advise you on what doesn’t work. Whether it is a matter of landing a first job, or advancing your career, a little bit of inside knowledge can go a long way.
Helping you to get the specific skills now that you’ll need later. One of the biggest advantages to having a career mentor is learning what specific skills you’ll need to acquire that you may not have been learning in school. It’s an unfortunate fact – especially in a rapidly changing world – that universities are often several years behind the curve in career fields. There may be certain skills universities are teaching that are no longer as important as they once were, and others that are coming up quickly that you need to know. A mentor can point you in the right direction.
It ain’t all book knowledge. Your education will give you the raw skills that you need to enter a career field. But there are usually “soft skills” that don’t appear in any textbooks. This can include “people skills”. Those are the ability to deal with superiors, coworkers, clients and customers. A career mentor can tell you what the soft skills are, giving you a valuable opportunity to master them before you even start your first job. Knowing beforehand can put you on the fast track.
Learning “the language” of your new career. Every industry and career field has its own language – the day-to-day jargon that is exchanged between people in the field. Understanding of this language can increase your candidacy for a job. It can identify you as a potential insider. Just being able to drop the right words and buzz phrases can often advance you to the next phase of the job interview process. A lack of understanding of this language could indicate that you have a longer learning curve than a potential employer is willing to take on. A career mentor can introduce you to this language, and let you know which words and phrases are particularly important.
Staying on top of current trends. University programs tend to lock into a career knowledge base as of a certain point in time. But trends and conditions are changing constantly. A career mentor can keep you apprised of developing trends and challenges within an industry. Just having some understanding of these trends can be a door opener on job interviews. With a career mentor, you will be learning from someone who is actively dealing with those trends.
Securing a relevant career reference. Once you develop a relationship with a career mentor – who is also an industry insider – you will have a built-in career reference. Very few university graduates will have a reference of this caliber in looking for their first job. This person will be able to speak well of you, at least as a personal reference.
How to Find the Right Career Mentor
The Internet has made it easier to find a career mentor than ever. You can often find potential mentors on a company website, which enables you to zero in on the exact career that you’re interested in pursuing. You may also be able to find people through various industry and career networks. Joining network forums is one of the best ways to do this. It will give you the opportunity to converse with several people, enabling you to isolate the people who seem most willing.
You may have to contact several people in order to find one or two who are willing to mentor you. You can start doing this by sending emails, but later follow-up with phone calls – if they’ll provide their direct phone line. Eventually, you want to extend the relationship to face-to-face meetings. You can do this by visiting their office, by going out for an occasional cup of coffee, or even by having lunch or dinner together.
The best way to connect with potential mentors is to be completely honest. I’m a university student looking for a mentor who can help guide my career. Sure, some people won’t want to be bothered, but others will respond enthusiastically. There’s nothing quite so gratifying as being sought as an expert opinion, and many people are more than willing to give back to help others attain success in the field.
Once you identify someone who is willing to be a career mentor, build a relationship as you would any other friendship – because that’s what it will actually be. Since you both will be in the same career field, your paths will cross in the future. There may be a time when you’ll be able to help your mentor, which may even be part of the reason why he’s mentoring you in the first place.
And – there’s even a possibility – that your mentor is looking for a potential future employee. That might be a dream come true!
Have you identified someone as a career mentor in your life?