By Nabanita De, Founder and CEO, Returnships.org
The need for career coaching and mentoring can be recognized as early as high school or undergraduate level. Seniors can be struggling and fretting through their college/graduate school applications, aiming to craft the perfect profile to fit the criterion of their dream schools too late in the process. My undergraduate research paper “Development of a career mentorship through active alumni-student interaction and collaboration” was my first step towards providing a step-by-step mentorship guide on how education institutions can implement and enforce career counselling services right from freshman year. Returning to the workforce process is quite similar. At Returnships.org, we are committed to building an effective game plan for people with a career gap or deciding to take one to maximize their chances of pursuing their dream careers through our free course. It incorporates our therapy/career/life coach module, first mentorship cohort and our first returnships book, to prep you through rudimentary stages of returning to work after a career gap.
When I first connected a returner who was out of the workforce for 20 years to a career mentor, she hesitated to ask for help. This month, through the Returnships Podcast with Nabanita De, our mission was to simplify the entire process of career mentoring and what to expect. Listen to the Podcast here and ask dedicated career questions here to our guest speakers/career coaches on our Returnships Forum. Coupled with my experience mentoring people from MIT, UMass Amherst, Northeastern University, Superposition, Microsoft and more, here is our step by step guide on choosing a career mentor/coach and how to make the most out of the experience.
When should you seek a career mentor?
A common question asked by participants at Returnships.org is “When is the right time to seek a mentor?” Although any time can be a good time to hire a career professional to help accelerate your career progression, mentorship becomes more meaningful when you have a career goal in mind and/or want faster results to pursue a career challenge or opportunity. Career goals can range from overcoming knowledge, skills, confidence or resource gaps, to gaining clarity on career choices, to identification and application of core strengths, to explaining gaps in resume, to pursuing your dream career, or to having a better work-life balance. A mentor or coach can be your accountability partner who is invested in your career success, especially when you are struggling with how to get started or how to advance in your career. They can help you efficiently arrive at your own internal answers.
Understanding what career coaches and mentors offer
A career mentor helps people go where they want to go in their career. They are your career cheerleaders, with an unique eye to identify your blind spots and a bird eye view to help strategize on what to look for in your next opportunity. They can help you clarify and narrow down your unique strengths and journey. They can help draft a vision on how to communicate your strengths to the world and apply them as your superpower to develop your aspirations and vision.
A career mentor is not a therapist. Their main focus is your professional effectiveness and success. However, mentors do acknowledge that professional and personal lives are interconnected and affect each other interdependently – they can help draw connections between the two to maximize your career efficiency.
Define what you need before seeking mentorship
Download the Returnships.org’s career worksheet (here) to define what you are seeking before looking for career mentorship. Set some time aside to answer the questions to the best of your abilities. Some questions from the worksheet include:
- Career stage? Student? Early/Mid Career/Executive? Sabbatical? Caregiving? Returning to work?
- What services/support do you need?
- Mentorship duration/frequency
- Expectations, outcomes, roles and responsibilities from mentorship
- Preferred learning and feedback medium/format/approaches
- Desired Career milestones and timelines
- If securing a job is your milestone, define: job search status, past/current and desired salary, dream employer: industry, size, values, role, responsibility, exposure and goals. New role timeline: current stressors, lacking skills, education/training or new job
- Day-to-day career centered discipline
- Personality, core values, intrinsic/extrinsic rewards
- Preferred mentor skills, expertise and background
For the next 18 months, focus on what is achievable, ways to maximize impact/make a difference and how to make the outcome more visible/measurable. After filling out this worksheet, head to the Returnships Forum to introduce yourself and look for mentors, using these pointers:
The right career mentor/coach
When choosing a career mentor, be aware of the types of career mentors and what they offer, as they range on various focus points from different career stages, skill sets and mindsets. An early to mid-career mentor may focus on finding the right role or employer, career transitions, promotions or gaining visibility within your organization while an executive coach may help with creating a narrative/brand to help you stand out as a leader. While common mentorship services include resume/LinkedIn/cover letter/elevator pitch review and drafting, interview preparation and practice, job application strategies, transitioning roles/career/industry and negotiation tips, a mentor can also be needed for more behavioral aspects of your career, like how to be more effective on your role, conflict resolution strategies with difficult coworkers, creating a sustainable strategy to prevent burnout, measures to onboard faster on new roles, explaining gaps in career, crafting examples for your “tell me a time when” questions in your behavioral interviews and helping gain clarity on your true purpose on a dead-end through discovering strengths, interests, fears/insecurities and coming up with a solid plan of action to implement. “The trick is to find a mentor who has followed your footsteps, has the right skills and specialization, is living your dream in the industry you are in or trying to get into” advises Laresa Acevado, our guest speaker on our Returnships Podcast with Nabanita De . Feel comfortable to ask for testimonials or results other clients have gotten when choosing a mentor. It’s completely normal to navigate through several mentors until you find a mentor who fits your current career goal and repeat.
Where can I find a career coach or mentor?
Returnships.org is taking applications for its first mentorship cohort to provide dedicated mentorship to caregivers returning to the workforce where we match each mentee to an industry mentor based on their profile, interests and needs. Returnships forum is also a great place to sign up and follow several mentors with returning to work expertise. Additionally searching “#CareerCoach” on LinkedIn and social media platforms can help you find a plethora of career resources. If you are a current student or alumni, your university’s dedicated career counselors department could be something to explore. Your local library also most likely contains a career support cell for the local community. If you work for an organization, your mentor could be someone on your same team or someone from senior leadership on a different team. It could also be a subject matter expert within your interested domain in the same or different companies. You could start by asking your manager for a good match for a potential mentor or look into your organization’s mentoring programs to get matched with diverse individuals with skill sets you can really benefit from.
Unconventional questions to ask your mentor
If you are stuck on how to best prepare for this mentorship or career coaching session, here are some out-of-the-box questions to ask your mentor or coach:
- Visibility, voice and value: How can I be more visible and gain visibility in the right forum and management level? How do I get my voice heard? How can I be taken more seriously early in my career? How can I add more value through leveraging resources and networks?
- How do I secure a seat at the table and maintain it?
- How can I effectively expand exposure to other industries, professionals and companies?
- What is my unique selling point, strengths and expertise, which can maximize impact at the workplace?
- How can I build and grow a strong network?
- How do I silence my negative self talk and imposter syndrome which is holding me back?
- How do I identify my next mentors or sponsors in my organization?
- What product areas/side projects with a unique value proposition, are most aligned to my true purpose and passions, that can be undertaken with least disruptive ways?
- How do I find a good work-life balance, especially in a pandemic when the boundaries are blurry?
- How do I upgrade my performance from good to exceptional? Where should my energy, resources and time be focussed vs wasted currently?
- Which relationships, expectations, structures and conditions help me excel and fail?
You need to define success for this mentorship for the next 6 months. Have regular retrospectives with yourself and your mentor to measure if you are on track for your goals.
How to add value for your mentor
Mentorship is a two-way street. While mentees gain mentor’s expert guidance, saving them time in reaching their career goals, mentors gain leadership and management skills while helping mentees from diverse backgrounds and temperament hit their Key Performance Indicators (KPI) milestones. Often the best mentorship comes much later, initially starting with reaching out and building a solid relationship. Take the initiative to get to know your mentor and their long term goals and be intentional and specific to see how you can help them attain those goals, utilizing skills in areas you are stronger (Reverse Mentoring). If you are unable to identify problems areas for your mentor, simply ask if they have any problems and if you can help. If you see a quality in your mentor that stands out in your mentorship process, make sure to call it out and help your mentors identify their superpower. Be that mentee who brings in fresh perspectives and unique experiences to discussions, providing mentors with holistic viewpoints on various topics and expanding his/her/their knowledge. Even after the mentorship ends, stay in touch and schedule periodic check-ins monthly or yearly and see how this relationship can continue to add value in both of your lives.
Advice from career mentors/coaches from Returnships Podcast with Nabanita De
- Don’t let others’ views and pace slow you or your career progression down.
- Preserve your inner peace.
- Continue to self advocate for your work.
- Be aware of resources around you and implement them into action.
- Some experience is better than no experience. Don’t let any work be beneath you when you need to gain experience. Take that apprenticeship. Invest time and build your passion project.
- 80% of the opportunities are not posted. Tap into the hidden job market by updating and reaching out to employers through Linkedin.
- Do things you are excited about. Be an initiative taker.
- Apply for jobs you have disqualified yourself for.
- You don’t need to spend an exorbitant amount of money to gain an education. There are many free courses that can get you a high paying job.
- Build a strong network.
If you found this article useful, pre-order our Returnships Book By Nabanita De here. If this article inspired you to try mentoring, sign up to be a mentee here and a mentor here for our first Returnships.org Cohort. If you are a caregiver, we want to hear from you. Tell us what you thought about this article on our Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram pages. Currently Returnships.org is empowering caregivers to return to the workforce in 87 countries. Our initiative will only continue through your support in the form of donations. Donate here. To listen to our Returnships Podcast, click here. If you have any career coach related questions, ask here. If you have an interesting story that you would like us to feature through our platform, send us here. To connect with our Founder, visit her LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.
This is a content marketing post from Returnships.org, a Forbes EQ participant. Forbes brand contributors’ opinions are their own.