Change can be stressful, whether it’s in your personal or professional life. We’ve all been through it. If you’re anything like me, then at some point you’ve muttered to yourself: “I wish there were someone I could talk to about this.”
In his book “Your Future in Public Relations,” PR pioneer Edward L. Bernays offered some insights about making career decisions: “Be sure you know what you want to get out of your professional career,” he wrote. “But only by being objective can you do any really worthwhile planning … Self-knowledge will make it easier for you to succeed.”
Whether you’re a new professional eager to start a communications career or an experienced practitioner who needs a major change, another person’s perspective can help you make more informed decisions. But who can you turn to for that advice?
Mentors are invaluable, and successful mentorships can develop into wonderful, lifelong interactions. But a mentorship can’t be manufactured. Successful mentorships grow organically. A mutual connection, on both a personal and a professional level, evolves into a comfortable relationship in which both parties feel encouraged to exchange advice with each other.
As a mentee seeking guidance, you have to reach out to people and then follow up. Even when your potential mentor has said that he or she wants to help, it’s up to you to start the conversation. All too often, initial mentor-mentee connections sputter into oblivion because the mentee doesn’t follow through.
A word of caution at this point in the process: The initial mentor-mentee meeting is like a first date, which means it doesn’t always work out as hoped. When that happens, it’s no one’s fault. Move on.
Regardless, it always helps to be prepared before the first meeting. Here are some ways to get yourself ready:
Know what you want to learn
Have a clear idea of what you want to learn from your first meeting with a potential new mentor. It might sound old-school, but write down the questions you want to ask. Don’t depend on your memory. Also fine-tune your elevator pitch so you can quickly and concisely help your potential mentor understand you and your goals. Your résumé provides the background, but during the meeting you’ll need to fill in the blanks.
Whether it’s face-to-face or virtual, when that much-anticipated first meeting arrives, the procedure is similar: Have a casual introductory conversation and then get to the point.
But remember, the other person is not a job-placement service. A mentor shares his or her perceptions and experiences, offers career advice and possibly suggests how you can enhance your marketability. Afterwards, it’s up to you to act on that guidance.
Assess the connection
First impressions truly are lasting. Do you feel comfortable talking with this individual? Is there a connection? Does the conversation flow smoothly? Are you getting the answers or advice you hoped for? If not, he or she might not be the right mentor for you.
If your initial encounter feels right, then agree on when you will meet next. But if the meeting doesn’t seem to click, don’t try to force the relationship. Say thank you and part company.
Remember that you’re not in this experience alone. No matter how otherworldly your own situation might seem, someone else has been there, too. It’s comforting to hear another person say, “Yeah, I know what you’re going through. Let me tell you how I managed it myself.”
You’ll find, as so many of us have over the years, that a mentor can make all the difference in your career.
Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, is director and ethics officer for PRSA’s Tampa Bay Chapter. He retired in 2017 as associate professor of communication at Curry College in Milton, Mass., where he taught undergraduate PR courses and served as faculty adviser for the Curry College PRSSA Chapter.