Why Professional Mentors Are Important and How to Find One

Professional mentoring is an invaluable tool in helping individuals transition from student to professional. While an advisor functions strictly to help guide a student toward successful completion of his or her educational program, the mentor invests much more into the individual’s success beyond graduation.

These individuals often function in both a personal and professional capacity, becoming one of the student’s first real-world colleagues and helping him or her make that move away from student much more successful.

What is a professional mentor?

professional mentor is an individual, usually experienced in the same career field as the student, who holds an interest in helping that student develop as a professional. A line is drawn between the advisor and mentor by pointing out that the relationship is more personal than that between advisor and student. That’s not to say, however, that an advisor can’t also expand their role, if he or she chooses.

In looking at the overall experience, students have said that learning from such a role model and accepting that heightened level of guidance provides invaluable insight. They often cite the wisdom, experience, and perspective of the counseling as providing them with information they might not have otherwise been able access. Medical students enrolled in their third and fourth years at UCSF were asked about the value of the mentoring program, and 96 percent said that they found it to be either important or very important.

Some students reported feeling lost at times, when they didn’t have the benefit of someone else’s insights. In pursuing academic medicine, one student admitted to “feeling my way through the tunnels,” because he didn’t have a mentor to help him understand what to expect.

There are some details that an experienced professional can provide, making it easier to learn the ropes. From tutoring the individual on the best methods for maintaining contact with prospective employers to advising on the best time to submit to professional journals, a mentor can make the difference in excelling in one’s chosen field. As a result, universities across the country have instilled mentoring programs, so their students can take full advantage of every opportunity.

What makes a great mentor?

It takes a unique kind of person to be able to successfully guide other individuals as they seek to make their mark in the professional arena. Certainly, not every educator is cut out to become a career coach in this manner, but the ones who do pursue this calling maintain a code of conduct regarding how they relate to their charges.

In speaking with administrators at the University of South Carolina, William Hogue and Ernest Pringle examined the common rules for developing professional relationships of this type. They then developed what they termed a set of seven Mentor Guiding Principles:

  1. Work Toward Mutual Goals
  2. Keep Details Confidential
  3. Honesty Is Still the Best Policy
  4. Promote Mutual Respect
  5. Building a Partnership That Works
  6. Lead, Don’t Rule
  7. Flexibility Is Also Important

How do you find your mentor?

Technically, it’s not difficult to find a mentor, but it does take some initiative and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone. Supposing your school doesn’t already have a mentoring program in place, there are a few things you can do to find someone who will be a good fit for your situation.

First, you will want to outline your goals. Before you can sit down with a potential mentor and discuss what you want out of the relationship, you have to know what you do want. This means outlining your objectives and your vision for achieving them. Also, think about what role you expect the individual to fill and what expectations you have for your ideal candidate.

This will help you identify the best person to offer you that guidance. Looking for that person doesn’t have to mean going on a hunt throughout the city. Look to your own organization. If you’re already employed in a field related to the career you wish to pursue, there may already be qualified individuals in your workplace who are able and willing to mentor you. A fringe benefit to this might be that you probably already know someone, making introductions easier.

This leads naturally to the next step, which is to set up that initial meeting. Contact your potential consultant and ask them if they would meet with you to discuss a possible partnership. This will help each of you to determine if you’re right for each other for a mentoring relationship. This first meeting should take place someplace where both of you are comfortable and where you can freely speak in confidence.

Assuming you and your new professional role model have agreed to enter into the partnership, you will have to set up a new meeting to discuss the details. Here, you’ll discuss the expectations each of you has for the other and the availability of each party. This will enable you to set up a regular, consistent schedule for meetings. It’s vital to ensure you are both committed to the relationship and that each of you understands the investment of time that will be required.

If you would like a more structured path for finding a suitable coach, and you don’t have access to a mentoring program through a school, the internet can be a valuable resource. There are a number of websites that connect students and new professional with experienced individuals with an interest in advising others.

Interviewing your potential mentor is still a necessary step, but, in utilizing a service, you can feel assured that these individuals are already interested in offering their tutelage. Knowing that your future career counselor came to one of these services out of a genuine interest to help another succeed may make those first meetings easier to get through and may boost the overall success of the mentoring relationship.

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