2.1 How can a mentor help you?
A good mentor will get to know you and then tailor their help to suit your needs; the needs and development goals of the mentee are central to this relationship. A mentor’s help may include:
- encouraging you to talk through your options, helping you to organise your thoughts and reach sensible conclusions and decisions
- helping you to identify and articulate your career goals and then, by prompting you to take action, assisting you to move towards these goals
- sharing their own experiences and telling you about success strategies they have adopted – for example, how they juggle responsibilities at home and work, or how they coped with disappointment when an application they made was unsuccessful
- giving you feedback on your CV, or your job applications
- introducing you to people from their network who might be useful to you
- providing a ‘safe place’ for you to talk in confidence about the things that go wrong or the things that you find difficult
- providing coaching to help develop skills and confidence; for example, by practising interview questions with you or watching you practise a presentation and providing feedback.
Finding a new mentor
If you don’t have a mentor already, perhaps there is someone you respect who you could approach? This could be someone who has themselves returned from a career break, or someone who works in the sector you wish to join, or just a kind, empathetic person who is wise and a good listener. Most people are very flattered to be asked. All you need them to do is provide a small amount of time – maybe an hour a month – to meet with you and help you set and work towards some achievable goals around returning to work. It really helps if they are willing to share their own experiences and offer a little advice when appropriate.
Try to think of three people who could possibly be mentors for you.
You could also try joining a more formal mentoring scheme. The MentorSET scheme [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] has been specifically set up for women in STEM to find mentors. Alternatively, some professional bodies also have their own mentoring schemes, so it is worth looking into these to find experts in your own field of work. Some examples and contact information are provided in the Further reading section.
Managing your mentoring relationship
When you start a mentoring relationship, it is often useful to establish how long you think this might continue and how frequently you expect to be in contact. Most people like to help out, but if they are busy they can sometimes be wary of making a long term and open-ended commitment, so your expectations should be made clear from the outset. Will you meet up in person or communicate via email or Skype, for example? Do you want your mentor to help you for a limited time and for a specific purpose, or more generally in helping you get your career back on track? Once you have a mentor, make the most of them: note down the goals you are working towards and give them a copy, then prepare a short update on your progress each time you meet with them. Remember to thank them for their time and support when you meet.
One of the ways you can identify a suitable mentor is to use people in your networks. As well as people you know already, your networks can help you to establish contact with others and widen your pool of potential mentors and support.