Published on February 18, 2020, at 6:00 p.m.
by Allie Rose.
Oftentimes, students and young adults entering the workforce believe that they do not have anything to bring to the table yet. Without any real work experience in the corporate world or agency life, what could you know?
That mentality does not seem to fit the current reality anymore. As the digital age grows and technology constantly changes, it seems that each growing generation has more to share with the generations who went before. When asked about mentorship, Jeff Winton, the CEO and founder of Jeff Winton Associates, said, “Build your network and find who can help you grow, and that doesn’t always mean someone more senior than you.” One of his most impactful mentor relationships Winton noted was with someone who happens to be 20 years younger than he is.
Where do you begin?
Winton recommended, “Start by narrowing down which part of the industry you are most interested in going in to.” Finding your niche will make the mentor search much less daunting.
Another place to get started is by recognizing what you don’t have and what you need to learn. Tony Cervone, vice president of global communications at General Motors, said, “You need to learn what you don’t know, not what you already know.” While it may seem obvious, a struggle in the public relations field can be staying in your comfort zone; your area of expertise is what seems safe. If you want to be a more effective public relations practitioner, that way of operating will not cut it anymore.
Gary McCormick, former chair and CEO of PRSA, credits Betsy Plank, commonly known as the first lady of public relations, with showing him the way to being a better mentor: “Betsy Plank selected me. She impacted so many people by constantly being involved in the lives of others.” He said that Plank was concerned with how the public relations profession would move forward — and concerned enough to do something about it. In the role of being a mentor, there are great opportunities that can have an impact on the profession and help to maintain its high reputation.
Not all mentor-mentee relationships look the same
In McCormick’s vast years of experience in the public relations field, he has maintained and grown many relationships with young, success-seeking individuals. In some ways, mentors can simply be a sounding board to offer advice for your next step. Mentors can also be a gateway to growing an area of yourself that you see the mentor excelling in. He said there are simple steps to a mentor-mentee relationship: “Start by asking for help. Next, reconnect. It is in the hands of the mentee to maintain the relationship and to continue the conversation. Lastly, give back to your mentor. It’s not a one-way street.”
Mentorship goes both ways
A common pitfall for students and young professionals begins with the mindset that they do not have anything to offer. “It is important to remember that you play a role in mentoring whomever you choose as your mentor,” said Winton. Additionally, going in with the fear that you are going to bother or annoy a potential mentor is an easy way to get off to a bad start. Begin with confidence and “be intellectually curious,” Cervone advised. This mental shift of always wanting to learn will make way for endless avenues of new conversation.
On the other side, the right mentor will connect you to the right people, McCormick noted. As a mentor himself, he recognizes that he may not have the expertise in every area his mentees are asking, but he does have connections to people who do. The conversation is consistently a balance between the mentee remaining eager to learn while the mentor works to help expand their knowledge and network.
How do you ensure it’s a good fit?
Have informational interviews. Create a connection and a personal pitch that has relevance to the person you are wanting to connect with — and set a time limit. Informational interviews are a great way to start the conversation about mentorship and to see if there is room for a relationship to grow.
What do you have to lose?
Steve Cadigan noted in a Forbes article that “getting advice from those with different experiences than you will only make you a more well-rounded, successful professional.” Seek advice and counsel from the leaders in front of you and challenge yourself to remember that you, too, have something to bring to the conversation.