Get yourself a ‘careers mentor’ – Part II

Back in February I wrote a post which you can read here extolling the virtues of finding someone to champion your career, a ‘careers mentor’ if you like, even while you’re still a student. I said that a good mentor could help you work out your career plans, give you advice on how to present yourself effectively in applications and interviews and how to ‘network’ your way into a job, and they might even help set you up with some work experience.

But apart from joining an established mentoring scheme like Manchester Gold, how do you go about finding such a person and getting them on board? Here are some suggestions:

  1. First identify your goals. What do you want to get out of your mentoring relationship? If you’re set on a career in the theatre but have no contacts and limited work experience, maybe you want someone who works in the theatre world and is very outgoing and well-connected, as they might be able to help you open doors, make contacts and get some concrete experience to go on your CV. If you have no clear career direction yet, maybe you want someone who has a wide range of experience in different sectors and roles and can be a sounding board to talk through different options and help you create an action plan. Of course, there’s no guarantee you’ll get exactly what  you want, but it is useful to start out with a clear goal in mind. That way, you’ll be in a better position to identify individuals to approach and know what to say when you’ve found them.
  2. Who to pick and where to find them. Once you’ve established what support you’d ideally like from a mentoring relationship, you need to figure out the best strategy for finding the right person. It might be tempting to go for a fairly senior person in an organisation (it would look great on your CV right?), but the reality is these people are usually incredibly busy and 9 times out of 10 won’t be able to offer the support you need. Consider looking for someone who might have graduated a bit more recently, as they might a) be able to relate more easily to where you’re at as a student, b) be flattered that you’re asking for their advice, c) be more likely to have the time to help you, and d) feel they can get something out of it themselves (i.e. it might also look good on their CV!).

    As with any kind of advice on networking, start by thinking about who you already know and put the feelers out with friends and family to see if they know anyone who might be able to help you.If you’ve tried that, be canny with the web. Search for people in your chosen sector (if you have one) who write blogs and use social networking sites liked Twitter and LinkedIn for professional purposes. These kinds of people can be good bets for mentors because a) they’re already ‘out there’ networking with others in their industry, and b) they’re also doing something over and above their normal day-to-day job.One approach could be to think about an organisation you’d like to work for and go on their website and look for staff contact details or even a mini-bio or profile (sometimes on an ‘About Us’ page). Then look for any connections you might have with them – is their job title something you want to do, are they a University of Manchester graduate (!), can you spot any shared interests? Then type their name into your favourite search engine perhaps with a keyword (e.g. their employer or the sector/specialism) and see what else you can find out. Look for people who generate a lot of search results (e.g. a blog, discussion forums, a LinkedIn listing, journal articles etc) and – very importantly – openly share their professional contact details online.

  3. How to approach the person. OK, so you’ve found someone with a strong web presence who seems to be open to online connections. How do you approach them? A targeted e-mail can be a good option, or you could start with a softly softly initial connection on Twitter or LinkedIn.If you are writing an e-mail, make sure you say:
    – Who you are and what you are looking for.
    – Why you’re contacting them in particular. Focus on the connections between you and why you think they’d make a great mentor. As with job applications,  be specific and show you’ve done your research, e.g. you could refer to some interesting posts on their blog or something you’ve found on their staff profile.
    – Be modest and flexible about what you hope to get from them. You don’t want to put them off by asking for too much at this stage and doors might open later.
  4. Expect some knock backs and non-responses. Obviously many professionals are very busy and won’t always be able to help. You might not even get a response at all. But don’t be put off – if you stick at it and ensure you keep contacting the right kinds of people with personalised, focussed (not generic and vague!), approaches, you will eventually strike gold!
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