Whether you’re a senior-level professional or a recent graduate, everyone needs a mentor to guide them through their career. These relationships are a special part of our professional development and can have a major impact on our lives.
So how can communicators become the best mentors — and mentees — possible? Here are a few ways we can do just that, courtesy of Alicia Thompson, APR, president, Signature Leadership LLC, who has mentored dozens of PR and non-PR professionals over the span of her 27-year career in corporate communications.
1. Make sure you both can commit.
Whether you’re seeking a mentor or want to become one, consider whether you have time to invest in the relationship. Mentees should be ready to do the work and make each conversation productive. Mentors should confirm that their schedules allow time to effectively support their mentee.
“It is a commitment, and if you do it, you need to do it well,” says Thompson.
2. Believe in the partnership.
While having the time for a mentorship is essential, passion about being part of one is just as vital. Helping someone progress in their career can be tremendously rewarding, but it doesn’t come without challenges.
“It has to be something you truly believe in and want to do,” says Thompson.
Mentees should be passionate too. If you’re going to ask someone to help you hone your skills, then genuine interest in your craft is essential.
“Have a good understanding of what you’re looking for and need assistance with,” Thompson says. “Mentoring relationships need to be driven by the mentee.”
3. Seek out your people.
So you’re ready to commit — but how do you actually go about seeking a mentor?
Thompson says that young professionals can find potential mentors almost anywhere, but look around you first. You’ll likely find a crowd already in your corner, from your favorite college professor to your first internship manager.
You can have more than one mentor, so explore other possibilities as well. Thompson herself has several mentors, and insists that professionals can be especially effective when receiving counsel from a diverse group; try to include both men and women, backgrounds different from your own and even people outside your industry.
Consider whether the person sitting next to you at a PRSA Chapter luncheon, or speaking at the seminar you’re attending, could be a prospective mentor.
If there’s someone you really admire, don’t stress over the possibility they may turn down your request. Go for it anyway.
4. Learn from each other.
If you’re a mentee, come to each session ready to ask questions, but remember that it’s a two-way street.
“It should be a dialogue,” Thompson says. “Mentors don’t give answers; they ask questions.”
And while the younger professional is soaking up wisdom and expertise, mentors should also be open to what they could learn from their mentee. A more experienced professional coaching a mentee on their presentation skills, for example, can benefit from the younger pro’s social media expertise.
“I always learn from people I’m mentoring,” Thompson says. “They’ve walked a different path and studied things I haven’t.”
5. Be vulnerable and open.
One of the most essential parts of any mentorship? Honesty.
Mentees should be transparent about their needs, their interests and the life circumstances that could affect the guidance the mentor might provide. Thompson shares that without this openness, advice might not pan out as the mentor intended.
But to be vulnerable, mentees need to trust their mentors.
“To be a true value to someone, there needs to be trust,” Thompson says. “It doesn’t happen overnight, but you need to be comfortable sharing.”
Brooke Metz is an assistant account executive at Edelman in Atlanta. She serves as PR Committee Co-Chair for the PRSA Georgia Chapter.
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