February 23, 2014

ON THE JOB: Do you have a mentor?

By ShannonNiedzwicki Guest columnist

---- — Do you have a mentor? Do you know what having a mentor means? If not, you really need to listen up — and get one!

Having a mentor is like having a career coach right by your side — but without the cost. This is someone that you can go to ask career questions, to discuss long-range career planning, to just ask for advice on day-to-day experiences. This is a person that you look up to professionally — a person who might be working right beside you. But if you don’t have someone in your classroom or in your office that serves as that “go-to” person, choosing a mentor can be a tough call.

When looking for a mentor, first think of your goals. Where are you headed? Where do you want to be? In other words, figure out what you want to be when you grow up and find someone who is doing just that. It doesn’t have to be someone who works with you or above you now. It could be a previous supervisor or co-worker, maybe even a professor or advisor you had in college. Just make sure this person is someone you can be comfortable going to whenever you need some career advice.

You may have to do some searching. Once you figure out where you would like to be working or what position you would like to have, research that company or profession. Find someone who matches your criteria and reach out to him or her. Send an email and attach your resume. Ask for a meeting one-on-one where you can pose some questions. Get to know the potential mentor and how he or she got to be in that position. And ask if the person is willing to serve as your career guide.

If this kind of direct approach is not your style, try other avenues. There are plenty of networking opportunities around your community. Your local Chamber of Commerce holds many events and socials with networking in mind. The key here is to not be shy, to use this time to ask some questions and to connect with others who share your career goals. Once you have made the initial connections, it will be easier to reach out through email or a phone call to arrange that mentoring conversation.

And realize it’s flattering for someone mid-career to be considered a valuable resource by someone just starting out or wanting to move up in the field. This could open so many doors for you as you pursue your dream career.

Mentors can offer help in many ways; it’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition. You have to find one that has your same career goals but also has your same values. I met my mentor when I was a sophomore in college. My supervisor in a part-time campus job, she took me under her wing. She is the main reason I’ve stayed in higher education. Even though I finished my degree, moved out of state and am working for another college, she remains my go-to person, the one I contact for career advice and, well, mentoring.

Nobody expects you to wake up one morning and know exactly what you want to do and how to accomplish it. We need mentors, people who help us along our professional journeys. Mentors will not only help us build our confidence and resume, but also our professional network. Your newfound mentor could become a future boss or supervisor who helped you navigate your way to success.

Shannon Niedzwicki, director of Career Services for Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo Region, writes an occasional series of columns on finding jobs and succeeding in the workplace. For more information, email Niedzwicki at