Entering a new job or industry can be intimidating. Mentorship becomes more important than ever as workers navigate The Great Resignation.
NPR produced an excellent post and podcast episode on finding a mentor. It’s absolutely worth the time to review the post. In this post, I want to reiterate some key points from the perspective of DEI and the tech industry.
Can mentorship still happen right now?
I think establishing a mentor relationship is still possible, but compassion and empathy are more important than ever. As a mentee, it’s important to recognize that your prospective mentor may be at capacity with professional and personal obligations. Remain flexible in your relationship; this could mean primarily using email to communicate or changing the frequency in which you meet.
Does your mentor have the right background?
An effective mentor knows their limits, especially with issues concerning diversity, equity, and inclusion. If you are seeking a mentor to assist with a DEI issue, ensure that is clear from the outset, and develop the space to allow the prospective mentor to decline. They may have another viable option to connect you with, or can identify resources to assist with your challenge, but cannot take you on as a mentee.
Mentees set the agenda; Mentors help with execution
As a mentee, your role is to provide the framework for what you want to accomplish. Are you looking for coaching to start getting into executive positions? Are you leading a team for the first time and want to learn some practical skills? Are you a new cybersecurity professional and you’re trying to decide how to further build your career? These are all valid reasons to engage in mentorship, but you need to be specific.
The key role of a mentor is to help you execute your agenda. They can provide or point to resources needed, help you work through tricky questions, and work to hold you accountable. And while both the mentor and mentee share the responsibility to issue course corrections or to start the tough conversations when things aren’t working as intended, I feel the bulk of the responsibility falls on the mentor.
Skills and focus
I find that the most effective mentorship helps a mentee identify a particular path to pursue, along with the skills necessary to follow that path. A mentor can assist you in deciding whether that specific certification makes sense for your career path or identifying an alternative. I’m a big believer in having actionable steps to better gauge progress.
Deciding whether a specific certificate or program is needed in tech spaces can be a time-consuming and costly proposition. If your mentor followed a similar path, and ideally did so recently, they could clarify what’s ultimately needed to best appeal to employers.
You still need to take the plunge
A mentor is best thought of as an advisor, someone who provides a different perspective and particular professional experiences. That said, they ultimately cannot—and should not—make decisions for you. Nor can they do the work that you both identify as necessary. Be prepared to make whatever decisions are best for you and to do the additional work, from studying for a certification exam to taking additional training.
Get ready to be your own advocate
In many instances, mentorship helps in developing an approach to solving a problem, but there’s still a need for you to do some heavy lifting. Unfortunately, employees still must disproportionally engage in self-advocacy. While working with you, a mentor could learn about the obstacles you face and become an ally. However, that should not be your expectation of the relationship.
As we continue to deal with the challenges of a global pandemic, we’re experiencing a massive drain on our emotional well-being and mental health. These challenges might manifest in the form of being unable to make decisions, or experiencing burnout. A mentor might be able to help navigate specific emotional challenges in the workplace. Microaggressions, imposter syndrome, and other feelings of inadequacy can hinder your transition in the tech industry, and a mentor can help you identify specific ways you contribute to teams and bring value to your organization.
But you need to remember that unless your mentor is a trained therapist, they are unable to address larger issues like depression and anxiety. Your mentor should encourage you to seek professional assistance for intense or systemic issues.
What are some of the tips you have regarding mentorship? Let me know your thoughts via Twitter, @SusanneTedrick