In my last blog post, I discussed the importance of inventorying relationships in order to eliminate naysayers, foster positive relationships, and address unmet needs.
When it comes to addressing unmet professional needs, I often recommend people seek out a mentor. But many people are unfamiliar with mentors. They don’t understand what their purpose is, how to find one or how to interact with them. Naturally, this creates a barrier for individuals connecting to mentors. But barriers are just bumps in the road! Below you’ll find a primer on what to expect and how to establish a mentor-mentee relationship.
The Perks of Having a Mentor
Mentors are resources that can help guide and support you throughout your professional journey. This support may take many forms, but often includes a mix of the following: problem resolution, brainstorming, opportunities, recommendations, and fresh perspectives. Below is a closer look at each one.
Mentors can leverage their experience and advanced knowledge to help their mentees with their professional struggles. Depending on the situation, they may have a quick answer, they may talk their mentee through the matter, or they may point them to a valuable resource on the topic.
For example, a recent graduate applied to two positions. His second choice employer offered him a position before he’d heard from his first choice employer. He didn’t want to miss out on his preferred job, but he was afraid to turn down his first employment offer. So, he consulted his mentor for advice. She let him know that it is not unusual to ask for a couple days to decide on a job offer. She also advised him to contact his preferred employer and let them know that he’d been offered a position elsewhere, but would much prefer to work with them. Upon reaching out, his preferred employer extended him a job offer within a few hours.
Sometimes mentees find themselves in situations that call for a broader approach than direct problem solving. Having a mentor can broaden the scope of a brainstorming session in these cases.
For example, if Jane is uncertain about what nursing career she wants to pursue, sharing her interests and brainstorming with her mentor may reveal career options she’d previously not been aware of.
Mentors often connect mentees to new professional opportunities. This may include attending professional events, networking with their colleagues, or being invited to participate in a project.
For example, Gerald was invited to attend a nursing organization’s fundraising event where he was able to connect with the Unit Director of his dream floor.
Mentors can make recommendations to you regarding your current path. This may include tips for studying, time management tricks, business etiquette, good places to apply, and more. But mentors can also recommend you to others. They may pass your name along to a colleague for a job or submit you as a scholarship candidate.
For example, DaLawn’s mentor had followed DaLawn throughout his nursing career and was able to write spectacularly accurate and individualized letters of recommendation for his scholarships and employment opportunities.
Oftentimes, our self-biases prevent us from being able to assess ourselves accurately. Being able to have an honest discussion with someone else regarding your strengths and weaknesses is invaluable. Mentors can build confidence in their mentees by acknowledging their strengths and working on improving areas of weakness.
For example, Teruko knew that she was a good worker, but her mentor helped her identify that she needs to work on sharing the workload more evenly with her peers.
Establishing a Connection
We’ve established that mentors can be pretty amazing, but that still leaves people wondering: “How do I get one?” It’s important to remember that you can’t declare someone your mentor anymore than you can declare someone to be your boyfriend -- it’s a partnership.
Much like with dating, you might test a mentor-mentee relationship and find it’s not the right fit. You may get turned down for meetings a few times. But don’t give up! Finding the right mentor, like finding a romantic partner, takes time and effort - but it’s worth it!
The first piece of the puzzle is determining who would be a good match. Search for individuals who inspire you and who share your field of interest. Consider your local role models -- floor nurses, unit leadership, faculty members, nursing organization leaders, etc.
Once you’ve identified a few people, do some research on them. This will help you ensure that they are a good match for you. Mentioning something specific about your individual will also demonstrate to that person that you are invested in them specifically.
When you’re ready to connect, try to get a face-to-face meeting. In-person meetings have been shown to have numerous benefits. If distance or timing prohibit in-person meetings, opt for video chat or phone. At your first meeting, be sure to include a brief summary of who you are, what your goals are, and how your chosen individual fits into the picture.
For example, “Hi Ms. Blume, my name is Karelle Smith. I’m a second year nursing student who is looking forward to working in preventative care. I saw that you wrote an article about preventing asthma in adolescents and have been working with Jacobs & Sons for a while. I was wondering if you could give me some advice on my Capstone Project: Ensuring Inhaler Access.”
Maintaining the Relationship
Oftentimes, mentors are very busy and may have a number of individuals vying for their attention. It’s important to be courteous with their time and demonstrate that you take their input seriously. Try to keep meetings to around 15 minutes and focus on one or two points each time.
When asking for advice, be prepared. Tell them what you’ve tried and whether it was successful; what options you’ve researched; and where you’re utterly lost. When they provide advice or guidance, be sure to circle back with them and let them know how it went. Contact your mentor at least once a month to maintain the bond and preserve the relationship.
Additionally, keep in mind that mentor-mentee relationships are two-way streets. Your mentor will undoubtedly help you learn and grow, so see if there is something you might be able to support them with. Perhaps they could use a hand wrangling up volunteers or audience members. Maybe they could use a second set of eyes to proofread a newsletter before it goes out. Just because they are further along in their career doesn’t mean that you can’t offer them some support. Everybody needs a helping hand sometimes!
About the Author
Melissa Strube is a recent graduate of Rush University’s General Entry Masters of Nursing program. She currently works as an Orthopedic RN and nursing student tutor at Rush University Medical Center. She also serves as the Elected Executive Consultant to the Student Nurses Association of Illinois.
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