Posted on January 25, 2016, at 6:15 p.m.
by Kristen Ellis.
What’s the best way to write a standout cover letter? Should my résumé include a references section? How should I network with employers I’m interested in working for without being annoying?
These are all questions that haunted me before I had a mentor.
Mentors are like wrapping up all the answers for the most confusing, stress-inducing parts of a college student’s life into one magical, generous human. When job and internship applications are looming — and yet you’re still buried in more schoolwork and extracurriculars than you can count — mentors are your superheroes, swooping in to save the day.
Though I’ve had many mentors and role models I’ve looked up to over the years as I reached toward loftier goals and sought to learn more about my field, I recently joined an official mentoring program through my college. Being connected with a young professional working in an agency similar to where I’d like to work upon graduation has helped me grow in countless ways. Plus, my mentor called Tuscaloosa home during her college years, just as I do now, and even took many of the same classes that I’m currently taking. Having these immediate commonalities provides easy topics for discussion and a shared viewpoint when discussing the job search with her.
I was lucky to be afforded the resource of an established mentoring program within my own communications college. However, there are many ways to go about finding a mentor on your own with a little bit of gumption, and a lot of enthusiasm. Here’s what I’ve learned (from local conferences, seminars and various PRSSA meetings) about how to find a mentor and why they’re important:
1. Networking. For both finding a mentor and as a reason why it’s important to have one — this one is a double whammy. Are you hoping to find a young professional you can ask advice of and learn from? Start by reaching out to those with whom you’re already connected. Some ideas to get your wheels turning are previous internship bosses, guest speakers you’ve met in classes or organization meetings, professors and their connections, and even your parents. Tell them your career goals, and see if you can find any similarities that will point you in the right direction. Mentoring possibilities are everywhere; you just have to start actively looking for them.
Additionally, once you’ve already found a mentor, networking with them is invaluable, too. Ask for colleagues and business partners that they might be willing to introduce you to. And don’t just blindly ask; prove your credibility by giving examples of things you’d like to learn more about so that they’ll know who can best talk to you about those topics.
2. Advice. Mentors are those who you can candidly ask any question that strikes you. Even those that may seem embarrassing or obvious are no problem for your mentor. Mentors were once in your shoes, and they know many of the feelings that you’re likely facing when searching for professional opportunities and other experiences. They will provide a listening ear with no strings attached and often can open your eyes to perspectives you never considered before.
3. Hidden opportunities. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a good mentor cares about your success and well-being. They can share new opportunities and applications that cross their desk with you, review your cover letters and résumé before you submit them to help you avoid any faux pas, and provide an earnest and genuine reference for you when you make it to the interview stage. Having a mentor can provide you with peace of mind and a fresh set of eyes when you’ve been staring at that blank piece of paper just a little too long.
Mentors are, I think, an essential part of professional and personal development. They’re free, fun and, best of all, they’re there for you when you need a helping hand. What’s more, the best mentoring partnerships are mutually beneficial, too. In an ideal situation, you learn from each other and both bring unique perspectives and discussions to the table. Start searching for your own mentor, and you’ll see for yourself how wonderful these relationships can be!