Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Career mentoring: From novice to professional

The application for CAPS' Career Mentoring Program is coming up so I thought a post about the program and the value of mentorship from a career development perspective would be timely. It comes from Amy Roy Gratton who, among other things, coordinates CAPS' Career Mentoring Program.

Confusion, frustration and anxiety about career options often lead students to explore the CAPS Career Mentoring Program. A mentor can offer clarity and guidance on where you are going and how you might get there. They can give you support right when you need it. The CAPS Career Mentoring Program is different from other mentoring programs in that we don’t require you to choose from  an already existing list of mentors. Instead, we find mentors based on your specific needs and goals.

When starting the program, some of our past mentees had a specific plan about what they wanted to do while others had no plan at all. Yet they all benefited from their participation in the program in both expected and unexpected ways. All of our mentees had the unique opportunity to interact for eight months with their hand-picked mentors, developing knowledge, skills and connections that advanced their careers. Here are just a few of their stories:
  • A year ago Ruslan, a Masters student in Modern Languages and Cultural Studies, thought he’d only start looking for work after he graduated. However, because of the CAPS Career Mentoring Program, he became employed well before he graduated and landed what he calls his dream job and a career in communications. 
  • Yvette, a student in ALES (Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology) felt “utterly confused and frustrated” when she applied to the CAPS Career Mentoring Program. She knew there were career options beyond academia but didn’t know how to match her knowledge with the unconventional career she felt would fit her best. She craved a new perspective and needed clarity on her goals. Her mentor (who had a background in sustainability) helped Yvette learn how to appreciate her accomplishments. Yvette also discovered that pursuing a non-traditional path, which at times can feel like having no clear direction, forced her to be more proactive and creative – allowing her to create her own opportunities and design her desired future.
  • Shahed, a student completing his Masters in Engineering, wanted to develop his soft skills; in particular his relationship-building, leadership and team-based conflict resolution skills. Shahed learned that he didn’t have to be in a leadership position to be a leader in an organization. He discovered becoming a technical specialist could be just as impactful and fulfilling because he would be the person his colleagues and clients depended on to get things done. Shahed also learned how to prepare effectively for meetings and saw how this preparation can lead to results. 
These students had great experiences to share and yet, it’s not just the mentees who benefit from the CAPS Career Mentoring Program. In the past year, the mentors made new friends and colleagues, learned about themselves and their own abilities and were able to understand their professions in new ways.

Both our mentees and mentors offer these words of advice for making the mentorship relationship work:
  • Make mentorship a priority. Even when other deadlines were pressing, our mentees pushed themselves to reach out to their mentors. By reaching out to their mentors in times of chaos, they actually gained confidence in their abilities and found greater motivation to complete the tasks they felt were overwhelming (such as writing or defending a thesis). A mentor can help a mentee develop time management, problem solving and goal setting skills, all of which help make stressful times more manageable.
  • Create SMART goals with your mentor and evaluate your progress. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Much of the growth that happens in the CAPS Career Mentoring Program is personal growth, which is not something you can easily measure. Setting a goal like “I hope to feel more confident” can be difficult to measure. Instead, break goals down into smaller goals. For example, if feeling more confident is your goal you might first start with the smaller goals of identifying where you lack confidence (e.g. public speaking) and then identify activities that will help build your confidence. 
  • Practice your professionalism. Mentees can feel uneasy in professional situations. A mentor is a great resource to help you practice skills in a non-threatening environment where mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities. For example, mentees often ask their mentors to help them practice networking. Even if the process is initially awkward for the mentee, these are seen by the mentor as teachable moments rather than career hindrances.
  • Make the relationship beneficial for both the mentor and mentee. Although the mentor-mentee relationship is typically viewed as being mainly beneficial to the mentee, this does not have to be the case. Everyone can add value and our mentees suggest finding ways to share information, skills and connections to demonstrate that you are eager, interested and able to take initiative. Ask yourself, what can I do for my mentor so that they benefit from knowing and working with me? Sharing current and trending information about the U of A, and your faculty and program can be interesting to your mentor and add value to the relationship. 
Admission to the CAPS Career Mentoring Program is competitive since a limited number of participants are accepted each year. Undergraduate and graduate students as well as postdoctoral fellows are eligible to apply. Attend one of our information sessions to learn more about how you can benefit from this program and how to create a strong application. Visit our website to view the deadline date.

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