Mentoring is when an individual who is experienced in a field takes another individual with less experience under his or her wing. You don’t always have to work in the same office building as your mentor or even in the same city, thanks to advancing technology. No matter how mentorship takes place, the result should be that the mentee feels they have furthered their career and professional goals with the help of their mentor.
Why Should Training Professionals Have Mentors?
As a training professional, you are in the business of learning. You work to help people learn and develop themselves in their job roles. But often, the training professional’s own professional development takes a back seat. “Training Industry research into the main challenges of the training professional points to limited resources and difficulty establishing training as a priority for the organization,” said Amy DuVernet, Ph.D., director of certification programs at Training Industry, Inc. “These pressures can lead training professionals to neglect their own professional growth in favor of their focus on building successful training programs.” With the help of a mentor, you can further your knowledge and learn tips and tricks of the trade. In the end, mentoring benefits you, your company and the individuals you have a hand in training.
Additionally, just because you’re a mentee doesn’t mean you don’t offer support to the mentor. It’s important for mentors to find new mentees, especially L&D professionals. The longer you’ve been in the industry, the less things are new to you. Tiffany Poeppelman, head of sales productivity at LinkedIn, says that “listening intently and asking probing questions have been valuable skills” she’s learned as a mentor. And Marisa Shapiro, director of professional development at Training Industry, Inc., says that exercising and problem-solving together can make the mentor stronger and help the mentee gain experience. The relationship offers the mentor the chance to learn from another’s perspective and develop leadership skills.
In fact, don’t think of the question as “why” or “if” a training professional would benefit from a mentoring relationship – think more along the lines of, “How will it work? What do I need to do to make it happen?” First, decide what success looks like for you. Think of what goals you wish to achieve professionally, make a plan for how you can achieve that vision and then start your journey to find an individual who can help. When you do, Poeppelman says, “Seek unique perspectives, trustworthy personalities, and individuals who are likely to offer different viewpoints and opinions from your own.”
If you’ve decided you could benefit from individuals who are in the same field, you may have thought about finding a mentor. Where do you start?
How Can You Approach Finding a Mentor With a Professional Network?
When you walk into a room of people, there will likely be someone who knows more on a certain topic than you do. It’s just a matter of finding the right person in that room who can help you. Sometimes all it takes is one email. But in other cases, it means literally putting your foot in the door of that room by attending business conferences and networking events. A great example how to meet a mentor is through a professional network, which offers support within a professional base. As Poeppelman says, “Your network is your most powerful career resource – use it!” When you’re part of a professional network, you will find like-minded individuals within the same field or industry or who have the same career focus as you. Someone who can mentor you in skills that are specific to your career will give you an advantage in your industry.
Traditionally, mentoring favors those who reach out for professional help. But not everyone is comfortable approaching a stranger. A professional network is a great way to find a mentor without going too far out of your comfort zone. For example, Poeppelman says, “When you change jobs, two things you can take with you are the skills you’ve learned and the relationships.” In these cases, you’re not always reaching out to someone you don’t know, which makes it easier to strike up a conversation.
Likewise, you may ask yourself how you should start that conversation. Many people find that the formal title of “mentor” holds a lot of pressure. When you contact the person, resist the urge to put a label on the relationship. Molly Beck, author of “Reach Out,” says, “You don’t ask someone to be your mentor right off the bat – that’s like asking someone to get married on the first date.” Instead, ask the individual if you can meet for coffee or, if that’s not an option, if they’d be willing to talk with you via email on the topic and/or skill(s) you think they can help you with. Over time, conversations like these can develop into a mentorship, often without your even meaning them to.
Poeppelman says that it’s important to invest in these relationships. For mentees, this can go beyond just asking for advice and showing an interest in the mentor. “Send them an interesting article, treat them to coffee or connect them to someone they might enjoy meeting,” says Poeppelman. That way, you can help them grow their network, too.
Shapiro says that one way to grow your network is by participating in professional development courses with your peers. For example, earning a certification can help you grow your network. Once certified, you are part of a community that has the potential to provide networking and development opportunities. During your search for a mentor, if you’re part of a certified community, Shapiro says, “You can find someone with experience in the industry who can help you in ways you didn’t know you needed.”
Another great way to build your professional network is by attending industry events, like conferences. When you step into a conference, you never know whom you will meet. Poeppelman suggests, “Do your homework in advance to see who will be at the events” so you can efficiently use your time. Don’t worry about meeting as many people as possible in a short amount of time. Beck says, “You are there to meet three to five other people who are interesting to connect with – don’t put the pressure” on yourself to meet everyone.
If you’re not comfortable introducing yourself to a lot of people, there may already be someone you know who could introduce you to their connections. An introduction can make the interaction seem less formal and uncertain, making it easier to communicate with new people.
When you build a professional network, you connect with people who are in the same professional mindset as you. Through industry events, you’re introduced to individuals who may have less experience than you, or who have 10 years on you. No matter the experience level, there’s something to learn from each individual you meet. From there, your network – and your career – grows.
Conferences like TICE and continuing professional development programs like certifications and certificates can help you expand your network and find a mentor or mentee. To learn more, subscribe to our newsletter or contact Marisa Shapiro, director of professional development at Training Industry, Inc.