Mentorship Resources and Tips

Over the past few years, the workplace has changed dramatically with most of us working remotely and dealing with rapidly changing priorities. As we say goodbye to a yet another challenging year and look forward to 2022, take some time to reflect on your experiences with co-workers over the past year; they may influence the goals or skills you choose to work on moving forward.

Do you admire a colleague’s ability to patiently manage a project during periods of rapid change? Or maybe you have a co-worker with a talent for staying on task and engaging team members during hybrid meetings? Many of the qualities you appreciate in others are skills that anyone can develop with proper coaching through mentorship.

Beyond developing your skillset, mentorship is an opportunity to broaden your network and ability to see issues from multiple points of view. Among the many things we’ve learned this past year, one key take-away is how important cross-team support and collaboration is to creative problem-solving and innovation, especially during crisis.

Whether you’re looking for a mentor or you’d like to become one, the following articles written by Senior HR Professional Kathie Elliott can help you get started:

  • Mentoring in the Workplace: Think mentorship is just one-on-one help from a more experienced colleague? Think again! There are many mentoring structures to choose from, depending on the goals of the mentors and mentees. Identify which structures may help you in your career.
  • Finding a Professional Mentor: Finding the right mentor can make a big difference in your career. Once you find a potential mentor, how should you approach them? Find ideas for turning a current professional relationship into a mentorship.
  • How to Become a Mentor: You may want to consider becoming a mentor if you have experiences and skills to offer. Even if you are early in your career or new to your position, you still have knowledge to share. Find steps to take to be ready when a mentorship opportunity arises.

Additionally, as you think about the goals or skills you want to work on and how mentorship could play a role in achieving them, consider tying them to your Performance Excellence goals (for support staff). For more information about how to set yourself up for success as you identify goals, check out this When SMART Meets HARD: Setting Goals that Matter article. 

How to Become a Mentor

This is a guest post written by Kathie Elliott, Sr. HR Professional.

Having a mentor can make a big difference in someone’s career. You may want to consider becoming a mentor if you have experiences and skills to offer. Even if you are early in your career or new to your position, you still have knowledge to share.  Mentorships take many forms, including mentoring up (such as sharing technical or emerging best practices with more experienced employees), peer mentoring (such as onboarding a new teammate), or mentoring a returning or new professional (such as helping a colleague who experienced a break in their career). Many could benefit from your experience, especially at MSU where we work with student employees, emerging faculty and/or researchers, or employees moving between administrative and academic positions.

If you are ready to mentor, consider:

  • Your area(s) of expertise –
    • Distinguish between skills you have used in the past (verify their current applicability today), and those you are confident still represent best practices.
  • What you would like to experience or learn during the mentorship.
  • How much time you can commit, and for what period.
  • How many mentees you would like to work with (individually, or as a group).
  • Whether you already have someone in mind and, if so, how to approach them.
  • Your preferred meeting format (e.g., networking event, activity, shared learning experience, coffee, etc.).
  • How much structure you would like (e.g., a mentorship developed over occasional calls and meetings, a just-in-time mentorship where every contact has a specific and time-sensitive goal, or a highly structured mentorship with a formal arrangement under very specific perimeters ).

No matter your preferences, there are steps to take to be ready when an opportunity arises:

  1. Identify your areas of expertise and ask others for feedback, if necessary.
  2. Model continuous learning. Upgrade your skills and become familiar with different learning styles.
  3. Consider your communication style and how that may help or impede a mentorship.  Are you comfortable sharing your experiences and emotions even though they may be somewhat embarrassing? If not, begin pushing yourself beyond your comfort level so you are able to fully share your experiences and their impact on you professionally and personally.
  4. If you have work habits or professional relationships that could be improved, address them now so you are at your best.
  5. Practice giving feedback and offering advice. Do you sense that, despite your sincere desire to help others, your efforts are misinterpreted? Seek out someone you admire for their people skills and allow them to mentor you in the art of communicating to influence. Consider taking a class such as Crucial Conversations, or reviewing online resources in elevateU.

Mentoring should always involve willing and interested parties with an expectation of discretion, and unrelated to the employee’s work status or position. Those who may influence an employee’s position or wages should not serve as a mentor to that employee.

If you enjoyed this article, you may be interested in these previously published articles about mentorship:

Finding a Professional Mentor

This is a guest post written by Sr. Human Resources Professional, Kathie Elliott.

Are you looking for a mentor to help you develop your professional skills? Last month, we discussed types of mentoring relationships. Finding the right mentor can make a big difference in your career. Once you find a potential mentor, how should you approach them?

The nature of mentorships presumes there is already some sort of professional relationship between the parties. If that is true for your chosen mentor, you could begin by asking them if they are open to serving as a sounding board for you as needed when specific issues arise. Or you could arrange a time to talk with them about your specific learning objectives and goals. In either case, be sure to explain the skills and abilities they have that you admire, why you think they would be a great mentor for you AND what you think the benefits of mentoring you might be. 

If you opt for a formal mentor arrangement, be sure to agree on what is expected of both participants, such as frequency and length of meetings, types of issues or skills to work on, and how long you commit to work together. You can always agree to continue, but many mentors would like to have a planned end date.

Turning a current professional relationship into a mentorship could begin with short situation-specific conversations. Great ice breakers might include:

  • “How have you handled a situation like _________ in the past?”
  • “What would you say to someone who wanted to __________?”
  • “Would you be willing to offer me feedback on _        __?”
  • “Would you tell me about a time you were faced with _________?” 

If you have identified a mentor, but you don’t already know one another, you can’t be sure whether they would be a good fit or interested in mentoring you. In this case, you could start first by inviting them to meet with you to discuss a specific issue or question. They’re more likely to want to meet with you if you have shared contacts or interests. Contacts can help make introductions, whereas interests give you a chance to meet this person under different circumstances. If you keep the parameters and commitment well-defined, neither of you will feel pressured to commit to anything beyond an initial meeting. If that meeting goes well, you can decide whether to request another meeting.

Occasionally, mentees reach out to someone in their reporting line for mentorship, but this can create multiple highly-sensitive issues. It may give the appearance of a conflict of interest, or it may not be a feasible time commitment for them to make to just one member of their staff. In either case, it puts them in the uncomfortable position of having to decline your request.  Instead, consider looking for a mentor in another unit of the organization who can offer you a unique point-of-view. And don’t underestimate the value of a mentor outside your organization; they may open a new world of insights and opportunities!

Regardless of who you choose to approach to mentor you, be sure to thank them for their time and advice. And remember, the point of mentorship is to continue to learn and grow as a professional while at the same time become someone with knowledge and skills that others (even those more experienced than you) can learn from.