How do I know when I've found a potential career mentor?
The process starts with getting to know yourself better to determine a suitable career path and then continues through networking with people working in that career field and becoming acquainted with professional associations to which people in you career area of interest belong. It is through this professional association networking that people (especially students) locate professional mentors to assist them along their education/career journey. Another way would be to work with your school academic adviser or counseling staff in your school or college to determine who might be an appropriate mentor to assist you along your journey.
Getting to know yourself and how your personality traits relate to people involved in various career opportunities is very important in your decision making process. During my many years in Human Resources and College Recruiting, I ran across too many students who had skipped this very important step and ended up in a job situation which for which they were not well suited. Selecting a career area is like buying a pair of shoes. First you have to be properly fitted for the correct size, and then you need to try on and walk in the various shoe options to determine which is fits the best and is most comfortable for you to wear. Following are some important steps which I developed during my career which have been helpful to many .
Ken recommends the following next steps:
Excellent question! I am going to attempt to answer it through the lens of my experience as a former university recruiter for Ford Motor Company, so if there is something that is not clear please let me know!
In the three years I worked as a university recruiter, I encountered so many students who had similar hesitations about asking questions to professionals (from Ford or other companies), so the first thing to know is that you are not the only one that thinks/feels this way =)
Secondly, you will find out that most of the time people are more than willing to help answer your questions and provide tips/advice on career choices, academics, etc. So, the best way to know if you've found a potential career mentor is to ask questions! Below are some tips for you:
- Be polite: thank the person you're reaching out to upfront for taking the time to communicate with you. This will go a long way in starting off on the right foot.
- Be clear and specific: do the best you can to ask questions that are aimed at a specific topic. The broader and more general your question is, the harder it will likely be to answer.
- Follow up: make sure that you report back with progress, achievements, etc. to keep the communication going. This was often a shortcoming with many students I spoke to; they asked for advice, I provided some, and then didn't hear from them again.
If you run into a situation where somebody is not willing and/or able to help, thank them for their time and reach out to somebody else! I am confident that you will have no shortage of people that are eager to help in whatever way they can.
Hope that helps!