Navigating college and the professional field can present challenges for a lot of people. If you feel you need guidance in your studies and professional goals, the time has come to seek out some mentors. Many of the people you look up to already completed the stage you’re in or may share a similar journey to you. If you seek them out, they would happily give back and provide guidance. Mentees trust and look up to their mentors for advice, and mentoring as a whole can be a rewarding experience for both the mentor and the mentee.
Read on to learn the upsides of mentorship and how to make the most of it.
1. Branch out
Maintaining an open mind regarding the idea of mentorship is the first step to making the most of your mentor. Having someone to reach out to for guidance is not a sign of weakness, nor does it demonstrate that you can’t follow a successful path on your own. Rather, mentorship should come from someone who has faith that you can achieve your goals and wants to help you along the way. Ways to branch out include networking with older students or professionals whom you view as role models and seeing if they would be the right fit as mentors. Joining organizations and considering who you already look up to are other ways students can find mentors.
2. Think about why you want a mentor
Even in college, students find themselves at different stages of life. From academics to involvement to professional preparation, college students navigate so many different areas—naturally, each student feels confident in different ones. While some students may look for mentorship from a working professional in an industry they find interesting, others might be looking for an older student with their same major to show them the ropes. Alexandra Simon, UF’s Career Connections Center associate director for career engagement, sees mentorship as a process for learning about areas you are interested in and receiving advice. Simon said, “Mentors can do a lot of storytelling which is helpful for providing perspective on the situation.” Students can seek guidance in many areas of their lives and, with this in mind, they should start their journey of looking for a mentor.
3. Network and join programs
Students can actively look for a mentor by networking with professionals and joining mentorship programs. Colleges and universities have many programs for their students in which they can find both professional and peer mentors. Natalia Machicote, a UF biology sophomore, holds a mentorship director position for the Member Leadership Program—a program within the Hispanic Student Association for new UF students to get involved and find their community on campus. Machicote’s personal experience with mentorship helped her decide to run for mentorship director. “I know how scary it is to come to college and feel alone and behind, even though you just started, so I knew the need students have for guidance,” Machicote said. “Start talking to people, build your networks, get to know people in your field, branch out and don’t be shy to ask.” Keeping an open mind throughout the process proves essential—students may come across mentors during unexpected times and places.
4. Find a mentor
Once you’ve started the process of branching out, a major milestone is meeting a mentor who you trust. In addition to mentorship programs, students can try reaching out to alumni of the school they go to or people who hold positions that they strive toward. Machicote was in the Member Leadership Program during her freshman year and paired with a mentor with whom she shares many goals. “What I got out of it was a really good friend who I can look up to and ask advice regarding pre-med questions,” she said. Mentors can also look at situations in a semi-hindsight manner. Although their situation differs from yours, they may offer objective advice when you need it most. “A mentor can really provide you in-depth knowledge about their personal career path,” Simon said. “Mentors can do a lot of storytelling which is helpful for providing perspective on the situation. If a mentor knows you really well, they can kind of help you seek out some blind spots.” Mentors may come naturally, or you may have to do some searching, but they should contribute to your development as a student and young professional.
5. Don’t limit yourself to one mentor
For each goal a student has stands a mentor ready to help. Simon compares mentors to a ‘professional sounding board.’ One person’s many mentors can act as an advisory committee. “You don’t necessarily have to have one mentor that is the ‘be-all end-all’ for any type of professional advice or coaching that you might need,” Simon said. Because many students explore various interests during college, it is natural that they may have mentors that correspond to each of these. Additionally, people may need different mentors at different points in their lives and professional careers.
6. Figure out academic and professional goals
Once you have mentors, you can refine some of your academic and professional goals with them. While these always constitute an ever-changing list, it helps to understand and evaluate where you are starting from to monitor your growth. A great lens to view your academic and professional development is watching your skill set expand as you gain more experience.
7. Be open to your mentor
Mentors may challenge their mentees to think differently or to reach a higher potential. Recognizing that mentors usually have your best interests in mind when helping you can allow you keep an open mentality in terms of their advice. Mary Faas, a UF psychology freshman, involved herself with MentorGNV, an organization in which UF students mentor elementary, middle and high school students of all ages in the Gainesville community. “Many of the students that I work with come from minority families, just like I do, and many of them feel as if education doesn’t matter and that because they are a minority, no matter how well they do, they will never be successful. I have learned to value their opinions, but also to change them,” Faas said. While you should follow advice you feel comfortable with, you should always try to understand where your mentor comes from and recognize their intentions in helping you.
8. See mentorship as a two-way street
In her experience with high school students, Faas has begun to see mentorship as a twofold channel for growth. Mentees learn from their mentors’ experiences and guidance. Mentors grow from the knowledge they gain and the rewarding experience of helping someone else. “Knowing that I was able to make an impact on them and help them through their struggle toward something simple as multiplying fractions, their relationship with a friend or their parents—that is what I have benefitted through mentorship,” Faas said. As a mentee, recognize that your mentors grow throughout the process and that their journeys are still being written as well.
9. Show gratitude
Mentors put forth time and energy into their mentees without expecting anything in return. However, mentees should show appreciation and keep their mentors posted beyond the moments when they need the most help. “Thinking about my own experience with the mentees that I’ve had in the past, and even mentors that I’ve been a mentee for, really the power of sharing your story is something that is extremely impactful,” Simon said. “Sometimes you will work with a mentee but then not necessarily hear back on what the progress was or how that relationship has been impactful.” For a mentor to feel appreciated and establish a fulfilling relationship, mentees should keep them posted in many aspects of their journey.
10. Give back via mentorship
The final piece of the mentorship puzzle comes in when the mentee becomes a mentor. People can have mentors throughout their careers for different chapters of their lives. Mentorship does not have an expiration date. If you have completed a significant stage of your life, you should keep in mind the place where you started and give back to those communities. Faas considers mentorship one of the best experiences she has had at UF. “When I walk into that classroom, it isn’t about me, but it’s solely about these kids which I have learned to genuinely care for and want to see each and every one of them succeed, not only in their education, but in their lives as a whole, and as long as they continue to do so, I will feel as though my job as a mentor is being accomplished,” she said. Once students have made the most of their mentors and feel comfortable enough to do so, they can start the cycle again, but this time on the other side.