Published on November 12, 2019, at 9:40 p.m.
by Ashby Brown.
Merriam Webster defines a mentor as “a trusted counselor or guide.” We often overhear this daunting buzzword throughout our college curriculum and the professional sphere. While it is an extremely beneficial relationship, mentoring can often feel stiff — almost forced — in the public relations field.
With this preconceived notion of what mentoring is, it is important to highlight the many benefits of mentoring no matter your age or skill level. Whether you are an industry professional or a student in Introduction to Mass Communication, having a mentorship relationship can always improve your skills, and the industry as a whole.
Lawson Colgate, a sophomore at The University of Alabama studying public relations, may only have a year under her belt, but she is not lacking experience in being mentored. In fact, one mentor relationship helped her feel more at home on a large campus during her first semester of college. “My mentors have not only played the role of mentoring me, but have also become my close friends,” said Colgate.
Since August 2018, Colgate has been a member of the university’s student-run communications firm, Capstone Agency. Here she found many older members willing to take time out of their day to coach her through situations, both in and out of school.
When asked about how mentoring has impacted her life, Colgate recounted a time when her mentor in Capstone Agency stayed after a meeting to let her vent about a bad situation. While this example may not sound like much, Colgate emphasized that “not only did she drop whatever she had to do to sit and let me vent to her for an hour, but she gave me advice and comforted me when I needed it most. “This moment made me realize how selfless she is, and how much she cared about me. I try to be more like her every day because she is someone I look up to,” she said.
So what qualities are needed in a mentor? Colgate had a few ideas. First, it is important to look for people who are “caring, selfless and wise,” Colgate said. “These people are the ones who are always there for you no matter what they have going on; they give you 100% of their time.” She also mentioned the importance of viewing them not only as a mentor, but as a role model. While it is important to choose someone with expertise and knowledge, it is still important to have a genuine interest in your mentor. When they speak, make sure to actually listen. Colgate advised that mentors “are wiser than you and usually know what’s best for you. Trust them and be respectful.”
Overall, Colgate concluded, “Mentoring simply gave me amazing people that I will always have in my life. It gave me people to look to when I needed help with absolutely anything.”
Karla Khodanian is a creative communications consultant based in Birmingham, Alabama. Graduating from The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in 2014, Khondanian already has around five years of experience in the communications field. Always being ahead of the game, Khodanian had impactful mentors during high school and college.
When she launched her career, she began to rely more on a few adults to mentor her through tough career decisions and everyday life. Looking back at her time as a communications professional, Khodanian stated, “I have been lucky enough to have a few amazing people consider me a guide in their lives — an honor that still feels above and beyond what I deserve!”
Khodanian mentioned that she “wouldn’t be who [she is] today if it wasn’t for those people in [her] life who took the time to mentor [her].” Because these people invested time in her life, she learned to be confident and to trust her gut. Interestingly, she found that these traits were reinforced by being a mentor to someone else. “It’s tough because the best part about being a mentor isn’t just the big moments, but all the small decisions that you’re trusted to be a part of, too,” she explained.
Khodanian urges those of us looking for a possible mentor to engage with people whose career paths we respect and admire. When scheduling a meeting, prepare to “buy them a cup of coffee and ask good questions. Not just about what they do at work, but about what makes them tick, why they made certain decisions, and how they got to where they are today,” she said.
What qualities should someone seek in a mentor? According to Khodanian, the number one tip is to look for “someone who doesn’t speak in trite buzzwords and platitudes — someone who isn’t afraid to be just as honest as they are encouraging.” Looking for these qualities as well as an availability to meet is crucial to finding an effective mentor.
Lastly, Khodanian shared a quote from Brené Brown: “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” This quote is important for Khodanian, as it illustrates a lot about mentoring for her. “You can spend a lot of time as a mentor reflecting on the past, and a lot of time as a mentee trying to predict your future, but at the end of the day all either of you truly has is right now,” she said. “It’s a very special thing to share the ‘right now’ moment with someone who you admire and trust.”
In the wise words from Brown: Go out. Show up. Let yourself be seen. A mentoring relationship may just be your first step, but it definitely won’t be your last.