The previous articles in this series focused on what students can do for themselves to broaden their opportunities. The key is being deliberate and active. This article focuses on what someone else can do for a student to bring them closer to their goals. Chasing success is not just an introspective exercise. To gain the best possible chance at excelling after college, students and young professionals need a mentor.
At best, students begin their professional lives with rudimentary ideas of their ultimate destinations—usually students only know where they are now. Even with a rough idea of which direction to go and what sort of landmarks to look out for on the way, how will these new professionals know what tools to acquire or take on their journeys?
What is the most important item now? What will be the biggest payoff later?
Mentors know the answers to these questions because they have first-hand knowledge of the path. A mentor is an experienced professional who is motivated by the success of their pupil rather than monetary gain. This is an important distinction to make because there are professionals offering similar services that do cost money. Think of a mentor like a map maker and a guide all in one. They lay out the route, prepare you for the journey, use experience to help solve problems, and turn new professionals into experts.
So, who looks and acts like a mentor but isn’t? The first to note are life coaches. A life coach is essentially a person who is paid to give advice. The issue with a life coach is the fact that their career is being a life coach. Life coaches are probably great at giving career advice to less experienced life coaches, but for everyone else they are paid random-suggestion machines.
There is another type of guide out there that shouldn’t be confused with life coaches or mentors. These are executive coaches. As the name suggests, executive coaches sets their sights on helping executives, but the services of a lesser-known or new executive coach might be available to young professionals at critical career junctures. Executive coaches are motivated by money. Sometimes, these coaches pull down thousands of dollars per hour. It is safe to assume that most readers will not need an executive coach at this point in their college or professional careers.
What everyone needs is a mentor. The question to answer, then, is when should students find a mentor? Finding a mentor without first developing a set of goals or a plan will not yield positive results. Mentoring is the last part of the series for a reason. Before getting help, it is important to figure out what sort of help is needed. A connection with a mentor is an important professional bond that relies on the mentor and pupil understanding a set of goals and working toward them together. Without goals, there are no opportunities to work together.
Portland State University provides resources for connecting students with mentors. Searching on the school website will quickly land most students at the right page for their specific department. Local programs like Portland SCORE offer mentoring for those who are looking to start their own businesses. Veterans have access to free programs like American Corporate Partners. A student may find a mentor during an internship, or volunteer opportunity if they are prudent enough to do some networking. In college, there are also peer mentors who help their fellow students meet educational goals.
Seek out advice on finding a mentor from a favorite teacher or adviser if you still have any uncertainty. There are few wrong ways to look. The only mistake is not searching for a mentor at all.
Finding the right mentor isn’t always easy, but it is necessary. Receiving guidance during difficult transitions in life alleviates the stress from dealing with unknowns. Eliminating at least some stress improves decision making, and usually nets better outcomes. The guidance a mentor provides can unlock the real potential of a pupil, help launch new products, yield rare business opportunities, inspire new fields of study and prevent early career missteps that could have lifelong consequences.
With so many obvious benefits, why would anyone try to go it alone? Make a plan. Find a mentor. Get the life you want on the first try.