Whenever I hear the word mentor I don’t think of one particular program, type of person, or a formalized set of requirements that make a small few of us experts at it, or qualify for having one. Based on conversations I’ve had on the topic, mentoring can take on a number of forms, many of which provide the mentor and mentee with great experiences and opportunities to learn from one another.
Keeping this in mind, it’s still necessary to think about, from both points of view, what your expectations are when thinking about mentoring…
Students: Is it to get a job or to find the best internship? Do you want to feel more connected to your experiences as a student from beyond the classroom? Would you like to meet an alum you can identify with?
Alumni: Do you want to impart the wisdom you learned from your own mentors on to current students? Do you have the “If I knew then what I knew know” desire that’s excited you into coming back and speaking with one or two students? All of the above holds value in that positive relationships help propel us into something better, personally and professionally.
If You’re Seeking A Mentor
Know What’s Happening On and Off Campus
Half the battle of developing better, deeper relationships is to be at events such as receptions, info sessions, our larger events such as our Internship and Career Fairs, and through meeting folks via The NY Connection and ELA Program. Does this guarantee that you’ll meet a potential mentor every time? No. But it does mean that you’re on your way to connecting with alumni and industry professionals, some of whom will be mentors for you in the future.
Mentors Show Up In Many Ways
A mentor can be someone who’s been in the field for thirty years or just five. A mentor can be a friend of the family, a former supervisor, an alum you met via Emerson Connections or one you met on a panel. When considering mentors in different ways, think about the folks in your life who have been cheerleaders, educators, accountability partners, and think about what they each gave you. Maybe these are people who you touch base with a few times a year and that’s enough. Maybe you keep them in the loop when you’re working on an exciting project, or just check in with them during birthdays or holidays as a way to show gratitude. All of the above hold value in what you gain in being mentored. (And, remember, you can always have more than one mentor!)
Don’t Be Shy
When you do connect with someone who either formally or informally has been serving as a mentor to you, have questions. No one comes into any profession, new city, etc., without having questions about developing skills, making the right connections, and upward mobility in career. If it’s something you’re anxious about, do a little research on the topic (s) you want more info on so that you can start the conversation sharing what you do know. Anyone with years of experience and wisdom can be a sounding board on the subject, and make comparisons and contrasts to the information that’s out there.
You Have Something To Offer Too
Keep in mind that often mentees can offer mentors advice and information too! With technology and the many generational differences in workplaces, often younger generations can provide insight on the differences that can make work life much better amongst different generations.
If You’d Like To Be A Mentor
While you may have a lot that you want to impart to a current student, also provide some time and space for them to share their experiences aside from just questions they have. The college experience of course changes over time so it’s a great opportunity to learn about what school, internships, jobs, cultural experiences, etc. are like for them, some of which you might not have considered. It also gets your mentee thinking a bit more outside the box and getting used to the nuance and flexibility of a relationship.
Find The Spark
This doesn’t mean that there has to be an immediate spark in the connection you have with the student. Sometimes expectations are so high on both ends that we’re waiting for something magical. The spark more so is what’s in the student.
Sometimes they’re more introverted, sometimes they’re extroverts ready to take on the world in ten different ways and other times you get a little bit of both. Finding the spark is about seeing what reoccurring themes come up, when they’re obviously the most excited about something, and even when there’s less enthusiasm. It’s a delicate dance of looking for what’s said, what’s unsaid, and knowing when to point out ways to help a student stay on track. The spark is also what energizes you!
The Mentor as the Teacher
Look for opportunities to educate students about things like following up, professional etiquette, and surrounding themselves with the right people. Often times this kind of relationship is a good way to to show support and a little tough love about what the “real world” will be like in the competitive world of arts and communication.