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Make mentoring work for you

Posted by Chad O'Connor  April 9, 2013 11:00 AM

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Mentoring can have a huge impact. A mentor can help you navigate through politics and roadblocks, push you out of your comfort zone, introduce you to a new network of contacts, speed up the process of advancing in your career, and be a very inspirational motivator along the way.

Not everyone knows how to go about finding a mentor or a mentee and how the relationship should work, so I spoke with Dr. Susan M. Adams, Senior Director at Bentley University’s Center for Women and Business, to get insight into the process.

I also interviewed mentees that had been through the mentoring program at Conexion, a non-profit organization founded by Phyllis Barajas focused on developing Hispanic-Latino leaders into strategic and innovative executives, to get their perspective.

If someone wants to find a mentor, what should they do?
Seek out people who you trust, who understand you and what you want to accomplish, who you admire, who know the organization and its needs, and who are willing to share honest feedback. Mentors along the way can help provide feedback about performance and the appropriateness of behavior in a specific situation. This starts by just getting to know people and developing open conversations with them over a considerable period of time.

Get involved in hallway conversations - first by listening most of the time. Understand the reputations and histories of people who could be mentors. Test them by asking for advice about a particular issue. You may find that some are better for feedback on certain types of issues and others on other issues. In that case, design your personal committee of mentors.

It doesn’t need to be a formal process or even acknowledged as a mentoring relationship, because you will likely seek advice from a different set of people as your career progresses.

If someone wants to be a mentor, what should they do?
Mentors can take the easy path, searching for the obvious high potential candidates for advancement or at the other extreme, they can identify those who are struggling. In both cases and those in between, know yourself first and what you can offer.

Approach the person by saying something along the lines of “I’ve noticed… I might have some tips that could help you be more effective. I’m happy to share them with you over a cup of coffee some time if you would like.” Be sure to discuss that you are there to help. Don’t force advice - rather offer the opportunity for sharing it. When relationships are choices, they are more trusting, which is essential for effective mentoring.

Viviana Arostegui-Ham, a Conexion mentee and Senior Release Engineer at Nuance, agrees that trust is a critical component of the mentor/mentee relationship. “If you trust someone, you are more willing to share information about your personal and professional life and work through challenges,” said Arostegui-Ham.

Conexion mentee Fernando Valles, Sr. Contracts Associate at Children’s Hospital Boston, had a very positive experience with his mentor. “I got so much career and personal advice, and it was so helpful to be able to bounce questions off my mentor. A mentor can provide a different lens on your career,” said Valles. Valles suggested when looking for a mentor, look for someone very experienced in their career as they can look back at their experiences, figure out what worked and what didn’t, and pass that information on to their mentee. Valles also suggested finding a mentor that is retired, because they may have more time to spend with you.

Conexion mentee Karina Arnaez, Sr. Consultant at Cardinal Health, developed a personal relationship with her mentor while also receiving career advice, such as ideas on presentations she had to give. She also found it very helpful to bounce ideas off of her mentor and get advice on challenges she faced both personally and professionally.

Everyone can benefit from having a mentor at any career level, and the mentor/mentee relationship can be a very rewarding experience for both parties. Kip Hollister, Founder and CEO of Hollister Staffing, described her mentor role through Conexion as “A gift – I got as much back as I gave,” said Hollister.

Seek out mentors that you look up to and ask them to mentor you. The worst thing that can happen is they can say they don’t have the time! And give back yourself and mentor others that could use your help.

Tips
Go into the relationship with an open mind
Clearly articulate goals for the relationship
Seek out mentors/mentees that have a compatible personality to yours
Look for someone in the same field as you, and look outside your field of expertise to get different perspectives
Seek out several mentors and design your own personal committee of mentors

Ellen Keiley is President of the MBA Women International Boston Chapter Board of Directors, serves as a Vice Chair of the United Way and City Year’s Women’s Leadership Initiatives, serves on the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Women’s Advisory Council, is a member of The Boston Club, appears weekly on RadioBDC’s Global Business Hub segment, and writes for The Women’s Book and Project Eve. She can be contacted at ellenmkeiley@gmail.com
This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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