In the modern workplace, young professionals are encouraged to make connections, expand their networks and seek mentoring opportunities to advance their careers. At the same time, there are many seasoned industry professionals who are keen to share the skills and knowledge they have acquired throughout their careers. The problem both groups face is how to start and build a mentoring relationship.
The University of Delaware helps bridge these groups to build and nurture successful mentoring relationships through multiple programs across the university. This is such a program Learner Executive Mentoring Program at U.D Business School Alfred Lerner.
This program creates one-to-one matches between professionals with 10 or more years of progressive career experience and current undergraduate and graduate students at Lerner College. Several participants in the Lerner Executive Mentoring Program spoke to Lerner College to share their advice for those interested in building a mentoring relationship.
Tips for mentees
1. Make the jump
“The biggest piece of advice I would give to students who want to be a mentee is ‘go for it,'” said Lilly Checkoff, a current mentee in the Lerner Executive Mentoring Program from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
“The program is excellent at bringing mentee and mentor pairs together,” said Checkoff, a UD Class of 2022 Entrepreneurship major with a minor in Nutrition and a Certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship for Health. “My mentor [Sarah Bernardi Carkner] has helped me with so many different things from creating resumes to networking to simply exchanging life advice. She offered me support in big and small decisions.”
2. Set the tone early
“First contact is critical and sets the tone for ongoing ‘open’ discussion,” said John Michael (Mike) Devenney, Logistics Systems Design Engineer Consultant, who currently serves as a mentor in the Lerner Executive Mentoring Program. “Be open and honest in your thoughts and comments. Expect the same from your “professional”/”experienced” mentor. Both of you can set the guidelines/topics for discussion and the level of personal confidentiality.”
3. Ask questions
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” said Libby Cusack, program coordinator for the Lerner Executive Mentoring Program. “Student mentees can learn from the successes and disappointments of their mentor’s career.”
“Think of your mentor as your business advisor, giving you information to make your own informed decisions,” said Devenney, who is a UD Lerner College graduate. “The mentor is not a parent but offers relevant counseling opportunities based on his/her life experience. Keep your mentor informed throughout the year/years. The personal relationship you build can last well beyond the current year and even well after you graduate throughout your working life.”
Tips for Mentors
1. Share your expertise
“For those looking to ‘pay’, mentorship is an excellent avenue to pursue,” Devenney shared. “Your expenses are usually one to two hours per month, more if you like. You can feel good about helping someone avoid some of the typical pitfalls you may have encountered trying to get your “bones” out of school. You will certainly have a major impact on a prospective graduate trying to find their way into the real ‘work world’.”
2. Set expectations
“Make sure you set expectations to have a successful mentoring relationship,” Cusack shared. “Create an agenda for your meetings, discuss communication preferences, and outline short- and long-term goals.”
“Typical conversation topics vary widely from personal development topics to the job search process to typical daily work expectations, physical relocations and business trips to ‘How do you deal with that…?’ Questions about a continuing education decision and almost any issue a graduate is trying to solve,” said Devenney. “As a mentor, you can set guidelines on the areas to be discussed.”
3. Learn from your mentee
“Mentoring is a two-way street,” advised Devenney. “We never stop learning, and I learn as much from my mentees as they could from my life experience stories. Every student I meet enriches my life, even after retirement. Wherever your conversations go, you can feel great that you’ve positively impacted a new grad who is taking the next steps through his/her life choices.
“Personally, I am very grateful for the mentors I have had throughout my many years of work; and I had an unofficial mentor during my time at UD who started the whole tradition for me,” he continued. “I’ve been a mentor for over 25 years and feel like I’ve received as much good advice as I’ve given. Mentoring is both an investment in yourself and in the mentee.”
“You’d be surprised how much influence you can have on a student like me,” Checkoff said. “I am so grateful to my mentor. Also, we have a mutually beneficial relationship as we offer each other different perspectives.”
application of this advice
Professionals hoping to inspire a Lerner student can join the mentoring movement by registering to be a mentor with Learner Executive Mentoring Program. Qualified mentors are brought together individually with a learner-student-mentee in the fall and spring semesters.
The Lerner Executive Mentoring program has grown from around 20 participants when it began in 2010 to over 500 current matches just 12 years later. In 2020-2021, around 96% of the program’s students and mentors rated their overall mentoring experience as good, very good or excellent, and nine out of ten said they would recommend the program to students and colleagues.
One of the best indicators of the success of these relationships is the impact they have had on the participants’ careers. In fact, 70% of students credit the mentoring program with helping them find a job or internship. Additionally, 85% of mentors agree that the mentoring program contributes to their overall professional development.