Mentoring is not the same as coaching, teaching or training. It is a relationship, initiated and led by you, the ‘mentee’ to enhance your personal and professional development. If you need an ally in your battle for a competitive job and want someone to champion your success, a mentor could be the answer.
Your ‘careers tournament’
As we move into May tennis hits the headlines with the World No 1, Andy Murray hoping to get his mojo back. What’s this got to do with careers I hear you say? Well, much of Andy’s success has been linked to his coaches – the individuals who help him to achieve his goals. He’s got strong technical skills but his coach works with him to help him win. So can this be replicated in the job market by using a mentor? I believe so. You can learn all the technical skills of career planning, including exploring opportunities, effective decision making and making applications. But having a mentor can help you fine tune these skills and turn them into success.
Does everyone need a mentor?
Any student can benefit from working with a mentor from their chosen industry. However, they can be particularly helpful for those who have no family connections in the sector they’re targeting. Those, for example, who are looking to break into extremely competitive areas such as banking or law or those who may lack confidence in their chance of success. A mentor can work with you over a period of several weeks or even months to achieve your goals – whether that’s finding work experience in a niche area with no internships, or landing a role as a runner with a media production company.
But they’re not going to just give you a job are they?
No, of course not. Mentors may not be in a position to influence the recruitment process but they can talk to you candidly about their own experiences and give you practical advice and guidance. It can be very difficult to know if a role is definitely right for you. By working with a mentor in the sector you can get detailed information about their career paths, and they can help you bounce ideas around.
Championing your cause
Knowing that your mentor is interested in you, and keen to help you achieve, can be extremely powerful. If you’ve been doubting your abilities, your mentor can help you take a reality check, and if they encourage you to pursue your dreams, then go for it! Let’s face it – those who are working in the industry are well placed to know what your chances of success are.
The dynamics of the relationship
You might start off with a few emails and perhaps a couple of phone calls, to talk about what will help you and clarify the support available. Your mentor may ask you to check in with them from time to time with updates – this can be a great opportunity for you to pause and take stock of how things are going.
I recently interviewed a University of Warwick non-law student who had a mentor during her vacation scheme. She described her mentoring relationship as an opportunity to take time out to reflect on what she was learning about herself and the firm. She updated her mentor regularly and also sought feedback on her application for the training contract which she successfully obtained.
Mentoring for her was a very positive experience: “Having a mentor championing my cause definitely helped the way I approached the vacation scheme and interview. It was a great confidence-booster to know that someone was rooting for me, especially in a career which is naturally competitive. It was also nice to be able to cross-check the firm’s culture with someone who had worked there. While vacation schemes are a great insight into life at that firm, there is only so much you can experience in two weeks”.
Mentors are very special people in that they give their time freely, with no self -interest to help others. It’s therefore essential that you respond promptly to your mentor, acknowledge how precious their time is and thank them for their support. You never know when you might come across them again, so make sure you leave a great impression.
But I don’t have a mentor – where do I begin?
Your university’s alumni are a great starting place. At Warwick we have an e-mentoring platform to help you connect with graduates in different sectors. LinkedIn is another useful tool find alumni and your department may have developed mentoring schemes. All of this can help you feel you’re not alone in succeeding in the job market. Andy Murray knows the value of his team of staff to be the best he can be – so don’t underestimate the value of engaging with those around you who are willing to help.
You may not win the French Open, but hopefully you’ll land a job that you love. And then you can be a mentor yourself!