Pay it Forward

Assistant Director of UD’s Lerner Career Services Center Sarah Baker Andrus shares her top reasons to become a mentor or mentee this year.

In celebration of National Mentoring Month this January, Assistant Director of the Lerner Career Services Center Sarah Baker Andrus shares her top reasons to become a mentor or mentee this year, based on her extensive professional experience, as well as her personal experience as a mentor in the Lerner Executive Mentoring Program:

We all know – well, certainly we’ve been told! – that mentoring makes all the difference in achieving career success. Research shows that this is especially true for women and minorities who often don’t have access to decision-makers and struggle to find opportunities for influence and impact.

How we see the mentoring relationship is critical to that impact. Specifically, it’s important not to view the mentoring relationship as simply transactional – I get this and you get that, and then we’re done. If you see the connection as one that’s over once you’ve found a job, or on the mentor side, once your immediate needs have been met, then you are cheating yourself. It is the pursuit of a mutually beneficial partnership over time that pays the richest dividends for everyone involved.

When I asked my own mentee, Ava Zimmerman, about her experience, she said that, “This past year has been challenging for everyone trying to overcome the adversity of dealing with the coronavirus. This past summer I had an internship lined up at a prestigious country club and it was withdrawn. For someone who is uncomfortable with change, I was extremely anxious and unsure what to do next.

“Probably the most important thing you told me was not to give up on finding other summer plans. I took your advice and connected and networked on LinkedIn and persisted on getting my foot in the door anywhere I could. With your guidance and advice, I did not give up and ultimately found an excellent job opportunity. I ended up working alongside some of the best professional golfers in the industry at an excellent golf course, as an instructor and marketing strategist at Bethpage State Park Golf Courses for the whole summer.”

It felt great to help Ava discover how to apply the inner persistence I knew she had to this challenging situation. Like anything of value, good mentoring relationships begin with a common understanding of expectations, goals and commitment. With that as a foundation, these are some of the long-term payoffs people experience by investing time and attention into the relationship:

  1. An external viewpoint. As a mentor, imagine you’re planning a marketing campaign aimed at a millennial audience. A younger mentee can offer valuable insights and strategies for reaching this demographic. For the mentee, a trusted mentor can provide candid direction for how to get off on the right foot in a new job or how to handle a new boss’s management style.
  2. Support and encouragement. In the midst of this pandemic, the economic uncertainty makes already difficult career decisions feel even more fraught with confusion. If you are early in your career, a mentor is a great sounding board for these decisions and can help you identify issues you may have missed. If you’re a mentor, sharing the impact of external factors on your own career, now and in the past, can help you gain perspective as you talk it through.
  3. Forewarnings. While it’s true that we can learn from our mistakes, it’s equally true that it’s best to avoid them altogether and take the lesson up front! Getting insight from someone who has walked the path you are on can be enormously helpful. And, the novelty of a mentee perspective can often see danger signs that perhaps the “been there, done that” eyes of a mentor may miss.
  4. Advancement opportunities. We all know a mentor can help you get ahead in your career, particularly in the early stages. The truth is that this can go on throughout your career and go in both directions. When I was leading a campus recruiting team, I began to mentor one of our field managers and helped him build one of the strongest teams in the country. Later, as he advanced in his role, he became a champion for the value of the work I was doing, and my advocate as I proposed new programs. While the relationship began with me in a senior role, within a very few years he had worked himself into a position to make a big difference in my career.
  5. Friendship and trusted counsel. A benefit I never anticipated from my mentoring relationship with the young man I mentioned in #4 above was the true friendship we built. We have celebrated life-cycle events with each other’s families and have become among one another’s most trusted advisors in work and in life. And, while that is special, it’s not unusual.

“Throughout the years (especially now), you have taught me to seize and take advantage of any and all opportunities,” Ava said when asked to reflect on our relationship. “You have not only been an excellent and knowledgeable mentor, but a role model I can look up to and go to for anything. I am grateful for the Lerner Executive Mentoring Program and having the chance to know you and bring you along with me in my college journey.”

Like any relationship, you’ll get out of this what you put into it. In my experience, it is well worth the effort! One of my earliest mentoring relationships was when I was in a corporate recruiting role. I had been asked to help a new sales manager with his college relations. We worked well together and were partnered on several projects. Over the years, as he advanced, he became a strong advocate for me and my work. Even now, more than 20 years later, we remain very close friends.

For professionals hoping to inspire a Lerner student, join the mentoring movement by registering as a mentor in the Lerner Executive Mentoring Program! Qualified mentors will be matched one-on-one with a Lerner student mentee in February 2021.

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