The 3 Stages of Mentorship

Photo cred: Chewy Chua

Already three months into the job, the new PR professional sat at her desk uncomfortable and lost. She wanted to ask her manager how to do it, but that would make her look stupid. Putting it off would only make it worse.  She knew, if she was going to finish this project, she was going to need some help…but from who?

Mentors continue to be one of the most valuable resources in my career.

Graduating and being thrown into the crazy startup world 2 weeks later, I may have skipped a few steps.  The lessons learned in an entry level job provide young professionals with the basics, and allow them to learn from the systems that their managers have developed over the years.  I never got those lessons.

That’s why I am so grateful for my mentors, and why I have so many!  But not all of my mentors are at the same level.

Depending on who you ask, a mentor can be a lot of different things.  I have 3 different levels of mentors.

Stage 1: Passive Mentor

  • I can ask them questions once in a while.
  • I’ll always get a response but it may not be prompt.
  • It’s possible that they have no idea I consider them to be a mentor.
  • They want to help, but aren’t necessarily concerned about my career.

Stage 2: Committed Mentor

  • I can ask questions whenever I want and will usually get a prompt response.
  • I feel comfortable asking for an introduction.
  • They recognize that I consider them to be a mentor.
  • They care about my career and like to stay updated.

Stage 3: Mega Mentor

  • I will get a prompt response whenever I have a question.
  • I connect with them regularly on a professional and personal level. (They’re a friend too)
  • I can turn to them for help with pretty much anything and they will help me.
  • They’re always asking about my career and trying to help.  They want me to succeed.

Having mentors in all three stages allows me to find help whenever I need it, whether the problem is big or small.

Up until now, I’ve never broken it down like this.  I don’t have a system where I try to push mentors from stage 1 to stage 2.  All my mentorships have been developed naturally.  Some get to stage 3, most stay at stage 1.  Regardless, I’m grateful for all.

Not only can you have different levels of mentors, but you can also have different types.  Providing yourself with a support system of mentors will ensure that you’re not going through your career alone.

How do you build your network of mentors?

Read more about mentorship.

Should You Ask For a Mentorship?

Photo cred: Reto Fetz

There are two ways to start a mentorship.

You can let it grow naturally, or you can ask for it.

Personally, I let my mentorships grow naturally.  I view a mentorship as a mixture of a professional relationship and a “friendship”.  Therefore, while you can specifically seek out a professional to be your mentor and build a relationship with them, you can’t really ask for a friendship.

I know others have found success in asking a professional to be their mentor formally.  They find someone who they look up to, who they think would serve as a good mentor, and they just ask them.

What do you think?  Should you ask a professional to be your mentor or should you let your mentorships grow naturally?

How To: Find a Mentor

Today’s Mentor Monday post comes from my friend Ryan Knapp.  After reading this post, check out his blog to find out more about him.

Photo cred: Kathy a.k.a. "K"

In 2006 I went from a PhD program in Linguistics to becoming a President/Owner of a minor-league soccer club (quite the life change, right?).  Thrust into my new position, one of the first things I did was make a list of what I needed to be successful.  Right below ‘make loads of $$’ and just above ‘hire an assistant’ I had scribbled ‘Find a Mentor’.

So I Googled, “Find a Mentor” and after reading 10 posts about why a mentor is so important and how to find a mentor in 5 steps (or for $29.99) I had a silent freak out moment,

“Oh God, I DON’T have a mentor…what do I do? Where do I start? and HOW do I find one?”

My previous life in academia I was lucky enough to have been ‘given’ three amazing mentors, or advisers as they are more commonly called.  I know many college students who are stuck with an adviser they despise, but my adviser in High School and my two advisers in College (Dr. Jeri Jaeger and Dr. Wolfgang Wölck) are/were incredible mentors and friends, but I never had to venture further than down the hall to find them.

For the first time in my life I was stuck finding a mentor on my own, and I had no clue.

So I took up an industrious approach and searched out potential mentors and read their bios and scrutinized as if I was interviewing them for a job to work with me.  “Nope, too young.  Nope, not in my field.” Lo and behold I came up empty.

However, after a few months of my failed mentor search I realized something — finding a mentor isn’t about trying to find a mentor at all.

Finding a mentor comes from forming quality connections and relationships with new people without a set outcome in mind.  Using this approach opens up a world of possibilities and you view mentorship in a completely different context.  The ‘search’ becomes unnecessary and your focus shifts to a productive two-way relationship with both give and take.

From the get-go you may have been looking for a big-shot in your field to be your mentor, but just because someone isn’t a big shot means they have less to give you.  Maybe you are a business focused person but your mentor might be someone who is an artist but can show you 1001 different ways to look at a situation.

I have been lucky enough to find two incredible mentors who have been instrumental in my growth professionally and personally.  Both Kiko Suarez and Keith Burtis became my mentors during transitions in my life, and they helped me get to where I am today, and are helping me reach where I’ll be tomorrow.

So, if you do not have a mentor but you are looking, don’t fret.  Put yourself out there and keep on making connections and meeting new people.  The beauty about our world is that your mentor could be someone half way around the world, a group of people, or you might become a mentor to someone in the process.

How did you find your mentor?  Were you looking, or did it just happen?

What Can You Expect From a Mentorship?

mentortiesIs it unreasonable to have expectations in a mentorship?

James Ryan Moreau asked me on twitter, “are mentors supposed to refer you to job postings? I found frustration in the past when I wasn’t getting interviews.”

My knee jerk reaction to the question was, you should never assume that a mentor owes you anything.  They’re committing their time as a mentor and it’s up to them what aspects of a mentorship they want to provide.

But after more thought, something like job recommendations seems like a reasonable expectation.  I think that if you respect a young professional enough to take them on as a mentee, you should be able to trust that they’ll represent you well.  If not, you shouldn’t take on taht person as a mentee.

Mentors expect things from the mentees too, don’t they?  A lot of mentorships consist of a mentor providing advice, and resources, while the mentee acts as an assistant that helps their mentor with work.  Or a mentor might just expect a mentee to work hard, to respect their time and to put in the extra effort in their career.T

Expectations are mutual.  A healthy mentorship is one in which both the mentor and the mentee trust and respect each other.  They’re professionals and they’re friends.  They’ll help each other whenever possible.

It shouldn’t be built on expectations, but rather the will to help and to learn.

Have any thoughts on this?

View all Mentor Monday posts.

Mentor Monday: The Wrong Way to Mentorship

Photo cred: Miles Tsang
Photo cred: Miles Tsang

Having a mentor is a privilege.  It should not be taken advantage of.

If you want to build a healthy mentorship, here are some things you SHOULDN’T do:

1. Do not approach someone to be your mentor with a one sided agenda.

Some mentors may not expect anything in return for their advice but that’s not something you should assume.  Some of the best mentorships are ones where the mentee helps out their mentor as an assistant, or helping hand of sorts. Take Sarah Merion and Lewis Howes as a perfect example of a mutually beneficial mentorship.

2. Do not set unreasonable expectations.

Your mentor has a job and their own life.  You can’t always rely on them to be there to help you at the drop of a hat.  They’re a great resource but do not become reliant on them.  Learn to walk on your own two legs.

3. Do not ask your mentor to do work for you.

This should go without saying.  Your mentor can provide support, answers and lessons.  They cannot do your work for you.

4. Do not contact your mentor only when you need help.

One of the toughest things about maintaining a healthy mentorship is staying in touch on a regular basis.  It can become an issue when the only time you reach out to your mentor is when you need something.  While asking for advice or help might be the main interaction you have with your mentor, you should try to communicate on a personal level as well.  Have an occasional friendly chat, or to tie in to number 2, ask how you can help them once in a while.

5. Do not force it. A mentorship has to be the right fit.  You may want someone to be your mentor, but if it’s not meant to be, it’s not going to work.  Find a professional that you can relate to on a professional, and personal level.

View all mentor monday posts.

Mentor Monday: Using Chats to Find Mentors

Photo cred: Kevin Zollman
Photo cred: Kevin Zollman

This is a guest post from Valerie Merahn Simon.

I was fortunate to meet my first great mentor when I was still in college.

Bill Sweeney, who at the time was heading EDS’s global government affairs office, was an alumnus of American University (my alma mater) and a founder of the Campaign Management Institute (one of my favorite learning experiences while at AU).

I met Bill because of my summer job. I didn’t have an important internship that summer, but as a swim instructor at AU swim school, I certainly had the opportunity to meet a lot of parents. Bill happened to be the father of two of my favorite students.

Finding a mentor while still in college can be a challenge. The academic world is often isolated from “the real world.” But social media offers the opportunity to change that. In August, Deirdre Breakenridge and I began #PRStudChat to provide students with an opportunity to connect directly with industry leaders and educators in a new learning environment that brings together the academic and professional world. Three months later, individual relationships and the community are building into important resources.

As one of David’s recent guests, Arik Hanson, points out, mentoring has been redefined as the result of social media.  In a departure from the traditional one on one mentor/mentee relationships, social media has created the opportunity to build substantive relationships with a wide array of professionals, regardless of geographic boundaries.

Participating in Twitter chats can be one way to find new professionals and begin to build new relationships with individuals who bring different backgrounds, experiences and strengths. Last week Miguel A. Llano pointed out the benefit of creating a “Board of Mentors”; I’d like to share how you can use Twitter chats as one tool to help you fill that board.

If you’ve never participated in a Twitter chat, here is a quick guide. As those of you who have participated in David and Lauren’s #u30pro chat already know, twitter chats offer a tremendous opportunity to develop relationships and learn from other professionals.  If you participate regularly, you WILL develop mentoring relationships.  Here are a few tips to help you identify and develop mentoring relationships:

  1. Break out of your current network and get to know experts in different areas by attending different chats.
  2. Listen carefully and actively to the conversation. Ask questions and share knowledge. @ Reply to individual comments, to encourage dialog and assure your response is not lost in the stream.
  3. Perhaps most importantly, when the chat ends, take action to assure that the relationships do not. Follow professionals you have met. Create a special column in HootSuite, TweetDeck, or whatever Twitter App you are using to assure that you do not miss future conversations. Follow their blogs and be sure to add your comments. Continue the conversation

But don’t just look to fill your “Board of Mentors”; add your knowledge and experience to someone else’s board. Young professionals can play an important role in helping students prepare for a career. I urge young PR professionals to take the time to do some “virtual mentoring” by joining #PRStudChat and passing along their own wisdom and experiences.

You don’t have to be a senior level professional to be a mentor. During #PRStudChat, some of the best insights have come from Millennials like Lauren Fernandez. With participants ranging in experience from students to industry thought leaders, one thing is very clear. We are all students. And we are all teachers. As David noted in his post on reverse mentoring, “Ultimately, every mentorial relationship should be a two way street.”

Have you ever participated in a Twitter chat? Have you been able to build individual relationships from the group conversation? What suggestions would you offer to those looking to develop mentoring relationships from a chat?

Valerie Merahn Simon currently serves as a Senior Vice President at BurrellesLuce media monitoring and measurement, and writes a national public relations column for She is also co-founder and host of #PRStudChat, a monthly twitter chat between PR professionals and students moderated by Deirdre Breakenridge. She can be found on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Mentor Monday: Corporations Have a Board of Directors; Individuals Need a Board of Mentors

Guest Post: Miguel A. Llano is responsible for new business development and social media strategy at Martino Flynn, a marketing, PR, and digital media agency based out of Rochester, NY.

Photo cred: Varnent
Photo cred: Varnent

In a recent post by David, he wrote on the topic of a reverse mentor. In my comment on this post, I stated that it is important for people to develop a board of advisors, which David quickly renamed “Board of Mentors”.

A corporate Board of Directors is usually made up of individuals that have formed influential relationships, have been successful, and have some sort of expertise that can be used to make decisions that are in the best interest of the shareholders (or owners of the company).  A Board of Mentors can provide the same benefits to a young adult. The value of having experienced individuals of all ages from different industries, education levels, and ethnicities can be unparallel.

As David has stated before in some of his other “Mentor Monday” posts, some people may know that they are your mentor, others may not. Here is a quick list of some of the individuals on my “Board of Mentors”:

Luis Martinez (@Quick37): A career coach and published author with many years of corporate HR experience.

Iveth Reynolds (@TriMarConsult): The CEO of her own company and heavily involved in non-profit work.

Julio Ahumada (@JulioMAhumada): A marketing biz dev executive and networking mad man.

Jim Reynolds (@JimmyRey): A business development manager with start-up experience and a technology juggernaut.

David Spinks (@DavidSpinks): The token “reverse mentor”.

(There are more, but to conserve space, I will stop here.)

These five individuals have all helped me in one way, shape, or form.  Each one comes from a different background and has different strengths. Almost any possible business scenario could be covered by the experiences and/or knowledge of one or any combination of these individuals.

Who is on your “Board of Mentors”? Do you think that there should be a limit to the number of mentors an individual has?

View all Mentor Monday posts.