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Seek Mentors to Enhance Your Career

By Daniel J. Eustace
University of Connecticut

Yongtao was seeking a full time position after earning his Ph.D. First, he sought coaching on how to compose targeted resumes for applications. Then, he wondered how he should prepare for interviews, so he enrolled in a professional development course and learned about the interviewing continuum where he practiced several in-person and remote interview styles.

Next, he sought out a mentor – first to develop good habits and strategies to meet people who could be referrals within his targeted organizations. Then, he asked for feedback on his elevator speech in which he described why he was a leading candidate for the position. Next, he sought guidance on interview follow up, how to do an after action review and to practice negotiations for the job offer he eventually received.

What separates Yongtao from many job seekers is his knowledge of what to ask for and his persistence in pursuing his goal – in person, via telephone calls, on the Internet and via Skype. He did whatever it took realizing that it was his professional responsibility to find these trusted advisers and develop connections with them. He understood that establishing successful mentoring connections takes work.

Why Seek Mentors?

Yongtao's research group included 30 graduate students, a dozen undergraduates, several research professors and adjuncts. So, his adviser did not have many hours to devote to each of his queries. Yongtao had to seek other members of his network and determine who had the time, listening ability, experience and mutual interest in him to fulfill these roles. He knew that a good mentoring relationship provides counsel for the protégé as well as satisfaction for the mentor.

He sought people he liked and he felt liked him who he could trust to keep his personal information and goals confidential. Trust and good feelings were not enough, however. He also got a sense of optimism each time he connected with his mentors. Progress was made even if his experiment – the application or interview – was unsuccessful.

A Bit of History

In the epic Greek story by Homer, The Odyssey, Mentor was entrusted to care for Odysseus's household and teach his son Telemachus while he fought the Trojan War. Since then, the character's name has been transformed to indicate any trusted adviser, teacher and lifelong friend.

There is a need for good mentoring. A recent survey by Gallup offers curious findings about lifelong satisfaction after graduation: a quarter of the graduates felt that there was one or more faculty members who cared for them and even fewer, one in five, who felt as if they were mentored to reach goals.

However, many seem to believe it is the institution's or professional society's responsibility to position individuals for career success. But, your professional health is fundamentally your responsibility. You must engage and pursue whatever it takes to meet your goals.

Be Proactive

1. Know what you seek and how to ask for it
a. Assess your values, passions and motivations
b. Be able to articulate your aims and know how to interact
2. Be alert to biases, limits of ideas and conflicts
3. Engage in beneficial and enjoyable conversation

With People Who Have

1. Time, interest and energy to commit to the connection
2. Open attitude, effective perspective and strong listening skills
3. Adaptable time and format arrangements
4. Harmonious and positive feeling at each meeting

Take steps today to establish your mentoring connections, and develop symbiotic relationships to advance your career.

About the Author

Dan Eustace serves members of several societies, local sections and universities by sharing behaviors, emerging ideas and best practices for managing careers. He retired from Polaroid and ExxonMobil and serves the UCONN Chemistry Department as an adjunct professor. Eustace has held staff and management positions in battery development, complex oilfield chemical development, terrestrial solar cells, high tech film manufacture and environmental protection, industrial hygiene and chemical safety. He serves SLAS as a career consultant and workshop presenter. Connect with Eustace on LinkedIn.

July 13, 2015