When I graduated from college, I couldn’t have imagined where my public relations career would take me. I knew what I liked, and through on-the-job experience, I learned what I didn’t like. Every step of the way, however, I relied on a mentor to help me understand my next step and what I needed to do to get to where I wanted to be. Even though there have been times throughout the years where I felt overwhelmed in my career, I am certain that I would have completely cracked without the support of an experienced professional to help guide me.
After ten-plus years in the workforce, I still have a mentor and I do my best to pay it forward. As I transition to a new phase of my career and start helping students manage their future in public relations, I’ve picked up on a few tips that help to maximize the mentor/mentee relationship.
Do have conversations. I am happy to talk to a student for 30 or 60 minutes (or more!), but you can imagine how long it would take to answer every question you have via email. Conversations also allow for follow-up questions and allow for open dialog.
Don’t giggle. Of course a sense of humor is important, but keep the nerves in check. Letting out a little laugh after every single thing you say makes you seem immature.
Do know what you want to discuss. General themes are a good start. Maybe we can’t talk about your education, your job responsibilities, your boss, your career path and your plan for professional development all in one call, but we can dig in to one or two of those topics at a time.
Don’t say you’ve already done that, it won’t work that way, etc. Have an open mind when a mentor takes the time to provide feedback, guidance and advice. Even though I don’t know every personality and all the specific politics in your office, think about how the overarching information I’m doling out can apply to your situation. Shooting down every suggestion is the best way to lose a mentor.
Do be mindful of the time. If you and your mentor have agreed to talk for a certain amount of time, try to stick to it. If you know you are nearing the end of your scheduled time, simply ask if they have five or ten minutes more to wrap up the conversation.
Don’t make me work for your answer. I am a-okay if you need to collect your thoughts as we talk. I prefer a pause instead of an automatic blurt-out of “I don’t know.” Think before you speak so we can have a two-way conversation.
Do follow up. First and foremost, a thank you goes a long way. More than that, though, how is everything going? Did you implement a plan we discussed? Did you have that tough conversation with your boss? Keep the conversation going with your mentor so that you can easily continue discussions.
When it comes to your career, take charge. Manage the relationship with your mentor, and you can forge a professional and personal partnership for life.
DeAnn Baxter, APR, is a past president of the Lawrence G. Foster Penn State Chapter of PRSSA. With 12 years’ experience in public relations, she now specializes in corporate communications, having worked at such companies as Coca-Cola and Amazon. She is always open to new mentees. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DeAnnPgh.