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Tips for making the most of a mentorship

Mentorships are an invaluable part of career development. Recently, research from Washington University in St. Louis found that even virtual mentorships for STEM undergraduates provided both mentors and mentees a meaningful and productive experience; not only did the mentees learn transferable skills during this time, but the experience promoted feelings of interpersonal connection and a sense of structure as well.

In politics, there is often quite a bit of mentoring involved. Staffers deciding to run for a local position often seek help from a seasoned politician they’ve worked with before. Young women who want to participate in politics should definitely have a mentor, as female engagement in politics is challenged by patriarchal norms and a male-dominated political culture — so you need plenty of guidance.

After you’ve read through our article 'Interviewing Your Future Mentor', you can determine whether your mentor is a right fit for you. They should align with your needs and interests. The next step is to identify how you should approach your mentorship to get the most out of the opportunity. Here are three tips to live by:

Unpack their directions

Ruth Bell, a Canadian women’s rights advocate who was honored for her mentorship, was known to have said that to create dialogue, we must suspend our own opinions while we listen to others. You may have already expected that you would need to listen carefully as a mentee. However, a good mentor may not tell you what to do in a straightforward way; most of the time, they would phrase their directions as suggestions like “You might consider doing X.”

If your mentor says something like that, it’s best to suspend your opinions first. Think about the best course of action, do it, then learn from said experience. You can also treat it like Jeopardy, where you get the solution first, but it’s now up to you to ask the right questions and come up with the right ideas to achieve it. It’s reasonable and productive to say “Help me understand why X is the right thing to do,” if your mentor doesn’t offer an explanation.

Widen your scope

It’s common to develop a mentor-mentee relationship with someone who’s already in your field, but it’s also good to widen your scope to different perspectives so you can thrive in diverse environments. As diversity coach and inclusion strategist La’Wana Harris writes, being truly curious about people — how they think, approach tasks, and respond to particular situations — allows you to harness unique insights, especially if they’re seasoned individuals and you’re in a people-centric career like public service.

One of the best places to find a mentor is at university, with many putting an emphasis on communication between students and lecturers. This communication is often promoted on degree landing pages. Maryville University’s liberal studies program information page emphasizes the need for students to discuss their goals with instructors who are experts in different areas of focus. This is because they can help students connect the curriculum to their individual career visions. The university believes that exposure to various topics can strengthen students’ collaboration, negotiation, and leadership skills. Networking with mentors outside your industry can open your eyes to events you wouldn’t think of attending, or joining campaigns you may have overlooked.

Stay in touch

Mentors are people you would need to have throughout your career, especially as your needs and goals change. However, it’s natural for mentors and mentees to drift apart eventually, so the key is to stay connected. Checking in regularly and informing your mentor of your progress is the best way to maximize this relationship; after all, a mentor can only be helpful as an advocate or career booster if they know what’s going on. In the study 'Connecting Youth: The Role of Mentoring Approach', researchers also found that mentors play an integral role in actively connecting mentees with other people and community programs. Keeping in touch with your mentor allows you to expand your social network for the long term.

Of course, don’t forget to be grateful towards your mentors, especially after you’ve found success; someday, you may find your roles reversed. One way to express your gratitude is by paying it forward. For example, Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of the nonprofit Girls Who Code, spends 25% of her time mentoring, which is something she learned from her own mentor, Hillary Clinton. Although they don’t talk every day, Saujani is always grateful for Hillary Clinton’s investment in her growth as a leader. 

Article specially written for ignitenational.org
By Alicia Barrett

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