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Entry by Pat Patterson

Let’s say you are a basketball player and would like to take your game to the next level. Now, let’s say you have an opportunity to practice your jump shot on a regular basis with Larry Bird as your coach. Would you pass up that opportunity? Of course not.

Now, apply that same logic to your career. It doesn’t make much sense to pass up an opportunity to learn from a professional who has the career you aspire to have one day. That’s where mentors come into play.

Mentors provide career and personal growth coaching. If you want more information about a particular industry or are hesitant about pursuing a certain career, you can benefit from working with a mentor.

A mentor can assist you in the following areas:

  • Identifying career interests and goals
  • Assessing your strengths and weaknesses
  • Understanding a particular industry
  • Understanding a particular career
  • Boosting your confidence
  • Enhancing your interpersonal skills
  • Developing a professional network/networking skills
  • Developing new talents
  • Finding potential job opportunities

How do you find a mentor? Many career services offices have alumni mentorship programs you can take part in; if not, ask for a list of alumni whose backgrounds match your interests and reach out to them yourself. You may also look to your teachers, family and/or friends to help you identify someone.

When selecting a mentor, consider the following:

  • Industries in your area of interest
  • Potential careers you desire to have
  • Organizations where you may want to work
  • Your personal and professional goals
  • Characteristics/values you are looking for in a mentor
  • How you plan on communicating with a mentor
  • The type of time commitment you expect from a mentor

Learning as much as possible about a potential mentor can help you explain to that individual the type of guidance you’re seeking. You can reach out to him or her through e-mail, telephone or in-person, depending on the relationship you already have. Sending an e-mail request is best when contacting someone you haven’t met.

When asking someone to be your mentor, explain why you selected him or her, and convey the type of guidance and time commitment you would like. It is not uncommon for someone to turn you down (due to time constraints, for example); however, don’t get discouraged – ask the person if they know of anyone else you may ask.

It’s also beneficial to have a mentor during an internship. Look for someone other than your direct supervisor so that you have someone to talk with more freely about workplace issues. A mentor at your internship site can help you better understand the organization’s vision, mission, goals, culture, programs and policies, and can serve as a “go-to” person when your intern supervisor is unavailable.

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