Skip to main content

Career Mentoring

Job search and career development can be daunting processes. Sometimes you feel like your options are limited; other times you feel overwhelmed by numerous possibilities. The journey can be lonely and isolating without some practical assistance and emotional support from someone who has “been there, done that.”


Finding a mentor who can empathize with your experience and help you navigate some of these career challenges can be very affirming. It can be particularly helpful to current students and recent graduates who are new to the profession, as well as individuals from various equity-seeking groups experiencing different employment barriers (e.g. people of colour, people with disabilities, women, individuals from the LGBTT2SQQIA community, newcomers to Canada).

What is a mentor?

A mentor is someone who voluntarily shares their wisdom and advice with another person who is less experienced in a particular area. The person being mentored is called a mentee. In the context of career development, mentors use their knowledge, skills, and own resources (e.g. professional contacts) to help their mentees develop and grow professionally, define and achieve their goals, make informed career decisions, and overcome challenges.
 

A mentor can take on many roles at different points in the relationship: guide, advisor, elder, teacher, role model, coach, cheerleader, friend, confidant, etc. The mentor-mentee relationship is both professional and personal in nature, and it is maintained over a period of time — sometimes for life — rather than being a one-off interaction.

What can a mentor help me with?

Career Advice

As someone who has been in the profession longer than you have, a mentor can give you valuable insights into typical career paths and job search tips that are relevant to your field. This information will help you make informed decisions and plan your next steps.

 

Insider Information

Ever wonder what it is really like to work for a particular company or individual? Maybe you want to get an honest picture of how a typical workplace functions in your field? Your mentor can share with you their insider’s perspectives, possibly through a job shadowing opportunity.

 

Skills Development

A mentor can help you identify gaps in your skills and experience, and suggest or connect you to resources and opportunities to build on them. Your mentor can also keep you accountable by checking in on you regularly to see if and how you have grown.

 

Professional Connections

A mentor can help expand your professional network by connecting you to others in the field. They can also inform you of job leads that they have come across through their connections, and possibly recommend you for these opportunities.

 

Support and Encouragement

You do not have to go at it alone when conducting your job search and advancing your career. Your mentor is a source of emotional and social support that can help you weather through some of these challenges and keep you moving forward.

What qualities should I look for in a mentor?

Knowledge and Experience

A mentor should be up to date on the latest trends in your professional field (e.g. best practices, hiring procedures), so they can provide you with valuable insights and effectively identify your areas for growth.

 

Resourcefulness and Actions

Ideally, your mentor can connect you to professional contacts and resources that can help you land your dream job or advance in your career. Good mentors don’t just talk — they act and go to bat for their mentees.

 

Honesty and Openness

A mentor should be comfortable giving you constructive criticism to help you develop and grow both as a professional and an individual. They are also someone you can confide in and be vulnerable in front of, so a sense of trust and respect is crucial.

 

Genuine Care and Interest

Find a mentor who wants to get to know you as a whole person and feels invested in your overall well-being. It is best to find someone who is available, reliable, and committed to sustaining an ongoing mentor-mentee relationship with you.

As a mentee, what are my responsibilities to my mentor?

Commitment to Growth

You need to want to improve yourself, and take charge of your own learning rather than expecting to be spoon-fed information. Take initiatives in establishing contact and asking questions, and commit to appropriate actions to develop yourself.

 

Clear Expectations

Mentors are busy professionals, and you can show them you respect their time by clarifying with them things such as preferred method of communication and frequency of meeting. You should also formulate your questions and requests to your mentor clearly.

 

Exercise Critical Thinking

Mentors may be experts in their field, but they are not expected to know absolutely everything. They do their best to help you out, but you are ultimately the one who decides whether their advice applies to you, and how you will implement their suggestions.

 

Show Appreciation and Maintain Relationship

Good mentors care about what and how you are doing, so provide them with regular updates. Also, remember to thank them for their time and assistance every chance you get!  

Where can I find a mentor?

When looking for a mentor, you can always start by considering individuals in your own networks. Professors and former supervisors are excellent and common options, so are family members and friends who are more advanced in their career.

Professional acquaintances that you meet at networking events or informational interviews may also become your mentors in time as you consolidate your relationships with them.  

Here at Ryerson University, you can take advantage of the Tri-Mentoring Program that serves a variety of student populations. You can also check out structured mentoring programs in your professional community (e.g. professional associations) that can connect you to potential mentors.

Should I ask my current employer/supervisor to be my mentor?

It depends. There is no steadfast rule against asking your current employer/supervisor to be your mentor, but a mentor is generally someone who is not within your direct supervisory line. This is so that you can confide in your mentor about your concerns, weaknesses, and other vulnerabilities without any professional repercussion. It is also to ensure that your mentor can give you information and advice honestly and openly.

That being said, some people are comfortable communicating with their employer/supervisor as a mentee. In fact, as part of their professional development and team building strategies, many organizations have formal mentoring or buddy programs that help connect their employees. Whether or not you want to ask your current employer/supervisor to be your mentor will depend on your relationship with them and the culture of your organization.

Do I formalize the arrangement with my mentor?

There are probably individuals in your life that you naturally see as mentors because you learn so much from them and/or they provide you with lots of support through your career. While you do not have to formalize your mentoring relationship with these individuals, there are definitely some benefits associated with doing that.

For example, formalizing the mentoring relationship can help establish clear expectations, and hold both you and your mentor accountable for each other. As well, acknowledging someone as your mentor is in and of itself a recognition, because it is a sign of respect and trust. Structured mentoring programs (e.g. Tri-Mentoring Program) can help facilitate this process of formalizing your mentoring relationship.

View Career Compass for more tips from career experts, industry professionals and alumni.