What does the term mentor mean to you? A leader? An educator? A boss or work colleague? A friend?
I hadn’t really considered the idea of a mentor before, or what having one would entail. To me, the idea of a mentor conjured up images of a stern, educational type – pointing fingers and telling me what I was doing wrong with my life (as someone who is terrified of authority, you can imagine how this immediately turned me off).
When I finished my undergrad degree, I was very lucky to land myself an internship at the same university, coordinating a student professional award as well as a mentoring scheme.
I got to see the process from beginning to end, match students with industry mentors in their field of interest, and seeing each professional relationship develop made me realise I’d been missing out on something huge.
When I made the transition back to student to do my MA, I didn’t want to miss the chance again so signed up straight away for the Universities mentoring program.
It has to be said, it was a strange experience coming into it from the student perspective, when I’d only ever known the scheme as the master manipulator behind the scenes. But I was quickly matched with a mentor named Ashleigh, a marketing communications specialist with a background in marketing, journalism and PR – a perfect match!
Our First Meeting
Queue instant anxiety, which is absolutely ridiculous considering I’d spent the entirety of my internship telling students NOT to be anxious about their first mentoring meetings.
Let’s not forget (I mean, how could we) that this all happened during a global pandemic. Meeting anyone for the first time is a daunting experience. Add into that the uncomfortable nature of virtual meetings and it’s safe to say – I was nervous. I needn’t have been.
My mentor, Ashleigh (who’s praises I will sing evermore) is plainly and simply a bloody wonderful human being. Our first meeting was also her first experience as a mentor, and she went into it as if she had been doing it her whole life.
We chatted about ourselves, our interests both personal and professional, and set out exactly what it was I wanted to get from the partnership. So, without further ado, let me tell you…
5 reasons why I wanted an industry mentor, and 5 reasons why you should get one too!
1 – It helps you to figure out where you want to be within your area of interest
I’ve had a vague idea since beginning my undergrad in marketing management that I wanted to be on the digital side of things. But that world is so vast these days, it was difficult to map out exactly where I wanted to be within that world. Social media manager, digital marketer, digital PR, copywriter?
It’s tempting to think when we’re in digital comms that we should be masters in every aspect of it. But having a mentor has helped me to realise that sometimes, that just isn’t realistic. Talking through the different aspects of the industry with Ashleigh and her experience with each helped me to pull my focus & has given me a much clearer path as to where I want to be.
2- If you’re a student it gives you a professional, real life perspective on your career, rather than just theoretical
Degrees are great, they really are. I know these days they aren’t a necessity, but the process of undertaking a degree gives you so much more than just knowledge and a certificate. But a degree doesn’t necessarily give you a true indication of what your career is really going to be like on a day to day basis.
Cue, industry mentor. Finding out what a day in the life of your future career really looks like can be a huge factor in deciding your next steps, not to mention allows you to prepare for what to expect from your chosen role.
3 – It gives you to opportunity to talk through your ideas with someone who’s actually interested in what you have to say
Whether you’re a student or already in an industry, it never hurts to have an ear of someone who shares your interests. From a student perspective, having a mentor has helped me to flesh out ideas for assignments, get feedback on work, talk through campaigns that interest us, deconstruct them and pull out useful ideas or concepts that I can put back into my own work.
Same goes for if you’re already in your chosen career – running your ideas through a mentor can help to flesh them out, gain an alternative perspective, vent your frustrations about something that’s gone wrong and talk about why it might have happened.
If you’re a freelancer, you might not get the opportunity very often to put ideas to your colleagues, a mentor might be just what you need to get those ideas onto paper.
4- It’s a brilliant networking opportunity
I mean, this one is pretty self-explanatory, but I don’t think the importance of networking can be overlooked. I’m a firm believer in that old saying “it’s not what you know…”. Obviously, knowledge and experience are essential, but that doesn’t always help to get your foot in the door.
Having a mentor can open up opportunities you’d never even considered. They might have inside knowledge of company vacancies you weren’t aware of, they may invite you to an industry networking event you may not have otherwise had access too.
Even if/when your mentoring partnership ends, you’re on their radar, and you can be sure that if an opportunity comes knocking, they’ll be spreading your name like wildfire.
5 – You can get as much or as little out of the experience as you like
A mentorship really is one of those situations where you get back as much as you put into it. Both parties are volunteering their own time, and both parties stand to gain a lot from a successful partnership.
But it may be that you aren’t in it for an intense, life changing experience. You may only want the occasional nudge in the right direction, a little boost here and there when you’re in a creative slump, and that’s okay!
Setting out your expectations early can help you both understand the level of commitment you want to bring to the table. But go into it with an open mind and allow the partnership to develop organically. If that ends up being something more than you expected, all the better.
With all of that in mind…
I’m very lucky that my mentoring partnership with the ever-enthusiastic Ashleigh is still ongoing and showing no signs of coming to a close any time soon.
It may sound cliché to say, but I really have learnt so much about myself from our little hour long chats every Friday, more so that I ever expected going into the partnership. We have so much more planned & seeing our partnership develop week by week is so exciting.
The personal and professional development that’s up for grabs with a mentorship is something that I feel is taken for granted, when there is so much to gain. The CIPR have recently introduced their own member mentoring scheme, you can check it out here.
Keep an eye out for another instalment of ‘A Conversation With…’ coming soon which may or may not (it absolutely does) focus on Ashleigh.
If you have any questions about my experience or would like any tips to get the most out of your mentoring partnership, pop them in the comments below or feel free to drop me a message on my socials. I’d love to chat about your experiences.
If you’re a student at the University of Sunderland, I can’t shout about the Professional Mentoring Scheme enough. Find out more and get signed up here.
Are you a professional & think you’d like to mentor a student? You can sign up to be a professional mentor through the University of Sunderland here. You don’t even have to be local to the area (the joys of the new Zoom way of life).
Until next time,