By Jodi-Tatiana Charles, founder of LCG Brands.
Mentoring can open doors, direct us to the right door, and often mentoring will help us see doors waiting for us to walk through them.
Our careers have stages: In the beginning, we are trying to determine where we belong; In the middle, we are trying to elevate ourselves in our professions; and as we look towards retirement, there is often a desire to share knowledge and create our own legacy.
Because each stage brings with it its own unique challenges and experiences, having mentors to help us through is more than appropriate, for many, it’s necessary. In this article, our focus is on students and the first formative professional relationship most will have.
For those looking for an internship/mentoring relationship, a word of caution as we proceed, not everyone was meant to be a mentor. Mentoring is a commitment both in time and energy, and for some they are not willing or able to make it. For others, imparting knowledge is not always easily accomplished through direct teaching and guiding.
Don’t take it personally if someone does not want to be your mentor.
Move on and continue your search. It may take knocking on more than a few doors to find the right person. And when you do, they will be elated that you want to work with them. Mentoring is by far one of the biggest professional compliments; it signifies your work has had meaning and others want you to share your wisdom and knowledge.
Becoming a mentor.
Our first mentors are often parents, teachers, coaches, or church leaders. They are the individuals we seek out to help us define, develop, and attain the initial goals we set for our futures.
On our professional paths, internships are often the initial mentoring crossroad. When executed properly, they should be powerful growth experiences and not about fetching coffee, filing chores, and other monotonous tasks.
When considering mentoring through an internship, understanding a few pertinent takeaways from the start lays the framework for successful opportunities.
The primary key to establishing a worthwhile internship is setting the ground rules that will lead to empowering the student and allowing them to make mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable, and as a mentor, the first skills you can help teach are around recovering from those mistakes and providing guidance on how to handle stumbles on our professional journeys.
For a student, coming into an internship requires a different mindset from that used in the classroom. It can take four to five weeks for them to develop confidence and find their voice. Give them that space.
Talent should be allowed to flourish. All too often, younger people are given overly rigid instructions. We need to erase that mindset. Talent won’t flourish if someone is constantly being told no, no, no.
The next step in establishing this first mentoring relationship is determining goals.
Without goals, what are you hoping to accomplish? Having coffee and chatting? Together, get clear on your expectations and assign a timeline around accomplishing each.
If it seems the goals of the student and the mentor do not align, an introduction to a more appropriate mentor should be encouraged.
A logical starting point for most collegiate mentors falls around helping students pursue graduate opportunities or submitting their first job applications. As a mentor, be prepared to discuss the merits of individual schools and their dates of application. For professional opportunities, understanding qualification requirements and dates of application are equally important. Dates allow us to keep our eyes on the prize.
After the timeline is set, it’s strategy time.
Getting to work.
Now is when the experience of the mentor can really kick in and where asking questions and honesty are imperative.
Student example: You want to apply to Deloitte. Your mentor knows they have a closed enrollment and it ends on a specific date. Together, you must start building a strategy for application. Here are a few considerations:
- Do you need to take a specific course? Are they looking for a certain background?
- Do you need to obtain introductions to people who are, or were, at Deloitte?
- Does your mentor know someone who can get you an informational interview?
- Do you need to talk with professors within your school who have work experience in that arena?
Perhaps you are not yet ready for that job. Maybe you need an internship in the industry to help you gain experience. Maybe a specific course will give you a leg up.
The reality is that now, competition is no longer just classmates, it is the entire world; the person who has lost their job, the ones making a career change, and those looking laterally and upward.
How do you stand out? It’s all about that strategy.
Make it count.
How do we build our “content” or “substance” both personally and professionally? Not only are we building our cache of certificates, classes and experience through internships, but we are also building on the personal side through volunteering, playing sports, and being involved in the community. Proving we are multidimensional and will add value to an organization should be our main professional goal.
The reality is that much of mentoring, especially for students, is less about a specific area of expertise (which in my case is marketing) and more about overall self-growth. As the intern, ask questions, ask to be challenged, and ask for honest feedback about skillsets, strengths, and weaknesses. As the professional, provide industry insight, but don’t be afraid to delve into how experiences mold us as professionals and how mistakes can lead to our biggest successes.
The process for my interns is straightforward. Each week I meet with everyone individually for one hour. Boundaries and accountability are established. If you are late, you are out. If you do not commit to the work, you are out. Mid-way there is an evaluation and at the end there is an exit interview.
I tell my interns; I should not want this more than you. I am tough. The world is even tougher. Get ready.
When you complete your internship, you should be prepared for that established next step, and a bond formed for future mentoring opportunities.
Why mentoring? Everyone benefits. Students are primed to add greater value to the world and mentors add to their most important currency – their legacy.
Jodi-Tatiana Charles has mentored over 5,000 students in her lifetime. She is the founder of LCG Brands. The company’s marketing methodologies are used by clients in 62 countries and the company has 111 partnerships with universities and colleges worldwide. From brand marketing and management to social and strategic innovation, LCG Brands is a full-service research, consulting and communications firm that provides seasoned expertise and an extensive range of services, including workshops and a speaker’s bureau. To learn more about LCG Brands and view its client list, please visit https://www.lcgbrands.com.