Wis­dom and a Help­ing Hand

Men­tor­ship Is an In­vest­ment in the Ca­reer of a Young Worker

The Washington Post Sunday - - Real Estate - By Amy Joyce

The in­terns are com­ing! The in­terns are com­ing! That means it’s time to get your men­tor­ing skills all shined up and ready to go. But how do you know you’re do­ing right by th­ese new worker bees?

It sounds like an easy task: Be their Yoda. Tell them what you think about your in­dus­try, their role, the world. But, in fact, your words and ac­tions can cre­ate or squash a ca­reer. You could send a per­son run­ning, think­ing this is the worst field for him. You could also help mentees get jobs and make their en­tire ca­reers.

A men­tor is an in­vestor in the mentee, said Ben Boyd, se­nior vice pres­i­dent at Edel­man, a pub­lic re­la­tions firm. “The re­la­tion­ship is not about the men­tor or what the men­tor wants or needs,” he said. “It re­ally is lis­ten­ing and pro­vid­ing that feed­back and in­put.”

A men­tor also has to be to­tally trust­wor­thy, so the mentee can talk about leav­ing the job, hat­ing a boss or ask­ing for a raise. “You need to em­power them to ex­cel in their own ca­reer and to be­come in­creas­ingly self-suf­fi­cient,” Boyd said.

Men­tor­ing an­other em­ployee, through ei­ther a for­mal or in­for­mal pro­gram, takes time and ef­fort. Hu­man re­sources ap­proached Boyd about be­ing a men­tor, and asked if he wanted to do it and if he had time. Of course he wanted to do it. But as for the time? Not so much. So he was clear with both HR and his mentee, Amy Malerba, that he would do his best but that she would have to be pa­tient. He might not be able to an­swer her ques­tions right away, but he would al­ways get back to her. “We went into it with eyes wide open,” he said.

Set­ting ground rules keeps men­tor­ing from turn­ing into a full-time job.

When Nancy Palazza, founder of Al­ter­na­tive Em­ploy­ment Spe­cial­ists in Hern­don, agreed to men­tor an em­ployee who wanted to move from an ad­min­is­tra­tive po­si­tion to a re­cruiter’s po­si­tion, she learned just how much time it took, too. “What I found was that I like to share knowl­edge, but it’s time-con­sum­ing and can be drain­ing some­times,” she said. “I think it takes a real com­mit­ment on be­half of the men­tor to share ideas and spend time.”

She said she re­al­izes now that she should have been a lit­tle more for­mal about the process and worked out a sched­ule. Be­cause she didn’t, the re­la­tion­ship was in­te­grated into ev­ery day. “It was just kind of a thing that hap­pened dur­ing the day,” she said, and it took too much time.

The job of a men­tor is not to dic­tate, said Trish Hol­lar, chief hu­man re­sources of­fi­cer for Bow­man Con­sult­ing in Chan­tilly. In­stead, lis­ten to the mentee’s in­ter­ests, de­sires, goals and pas­sions, she said. “You need to guide and sup­port the in­di­vid­ual. Make sug­ges­tions. Ex­plore the think­ing of the mentee. But do not tell them what to do.”

The re­la­tion­ship should be more of a part­ner­ship. One of the great­est things about men­tor­ing, said Jen­nifer Cort­ner, pres­i­dent of EFX Me­dia in Ar­ling­ton, is when the re­la­tion­ship changes so that the men­tor goes to the mentee for ad­vice. “It ends up be­ing two-way ver­sus a one-way ex­pe­ri­ence,” she said. “Ev­ery­one I’ve men­tored has been a con­nec­tion for me.”

Speak­ing of con­nec­tions, if there isn’t one, it might be best to step away, Hol­lar said. “Get to know them on a per­sonal level and con­nect. If they don’t con­nect, you may have to re­con­sider.” Be­cause who worse to spend your spare time on than some­one you just don’t get? Or feel in­spired to help?

Boyd’s mentee at Edel­man chose him be­cause she saw a good con­nec­tion. “Early on, I had this unique no­tion that Ben is so great and or­ga­nized, I’d re­ally like to em­u­late him,” Malerba said. She is or­ga­nized and de­tail-ori­ented, but she wanted to be with some­one who also is good at strat­egy, a skill she saw in Boyd. “I thought, ‘Of all the se­nior staff, who is the most like me?’ ”

The re­la­tion­ship worked — for both of them. On the same day last week, Boyd re­ceived an award for be­ing a great man­ager, nom­i­nated by the ju­nior staff, while Malerba got a pro­mo­tion. “He ad­vised me on the pro­mo­tion and salary dis­cus­sion,” Malerba said. “I felt so much more com­fort­able go­ing in to the re­view hav­ing met with him prior.” at work. You can e-mail her at lifeat­work@wash­post.com.

BY ROB SHEPPERSON FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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