I grew up as the daughter and granddaughter of Air Force officers during a time when there weren’t a lot of black officers. My grandfather was an officer for 30 years after World War II and my dad, also a 30-year veteran, started his career at the dawn of the Civil Rights movement. As a child, I saw how my father and grandfather mentored dozens of black men and women in all the phases of their military careers.
When my grandfather died in 1990, the church was packed, and I met so many people who credited him with helping them with their careers. The same thing happened when my dad retired five years later. So ever since, I have always proactive about not only finding and keeping mentors, but being a mentor myself.
Mentors throughout your career are important to have. Even at my advanced age (!), I still have mentors who help me. They can serve as a sounding board, offer great advice and help with job leads. But too often, I find that young people don’t understand how the relationship is supposed to work, so here are some tips to make a successful mentor/mentee relationship.
- Your mentor is NOT a psychiatrist, your mother or your life coach. As mentors, we are there to help and advise, but we are not the Iyanla Vanzant that’s going to fix your life. So no, I can’t talk with your professor about your grade, “loan” you $200 so you can make your rent or give you advice on what you can do now that your boyfriend has left you.
- Stay open, because you never know where that mentor will come from. I met one of my mentors in a grocery store line and another in the seat next to me on a flight. So look for every opportunity to find that person who can help navigate your career.
- Do NOT make your mentor chase after you. Your mentor is busy with his/her own career and life. They do not have time, nor is it their job, to call you and check in.
- Value your mentor’s time. If you’re going to speak with your mentor, ask to set an appointment for a specific amount of time. I even jot down notes on what I want to discuss to save time.
- Check in regularly with your mentor, but don’t be a stalker. You don’t want to have your mentor chasing you, and you especially don’t want to call your mentor constantly. You both will know what works best. Some of my mentees call more often than others, but it all works for us.
- Don’t call only when you need something. I had a mentee who only called when he needed something — a resume review, a job lead or a professional contact. Nobody likes to feel used, so don’t do it. I called my mentee out about it, and we are much better, thank you.
- When it’s not working, walk away. Sometimes the mentor/mentee relationship doesn’t work. “It’s like that song: if it don’t fit, don’t force it, just relax and let it go.” You move on and find someone else who is a better fit.
Please feel free to send your career and work questions to me at auntbenet AT gmail DOT com.