Professional development is essential for getting ahead in the ever-evolving communications world, and one of the best ways to develop your skill set is by aligning yourself with a person you admire within your field.
“We get carried away with spreadsheets, schedules and the stuff that is modern work life, and we forget about our duties to one another,” says Clay Cutchins, a mentor and creative strategist at Franklin Street, a Richmond, Virginia-based health care brand and marketing consultancy.
Older, more experienced colleagues can help junior workers advance by offering career advice, introducing them to the right people and opportunities, and sharing tips and tools of their trade.
“I realized that to get ahead as a writer I needed to eventually find someone who can help me get there,” says Rachel McGuinn, Cutchins’ mentee and a writer with Franklin Street. McGuinn, who was transitioning from project manager to writer was nervous about making the big leap. “I had never done advertising writing and it was very different. At first I felt like I didn’t deserve it or I didn’t know if I could do it.”
Cutchins saw McGuinn’s potential and decided to take her under his wing and help her grow as a writer. “Her humility showed her respect for the craft and for her new position,” says Cutchins. “I identified with that.”
Cutchins’ experience in the Marine Corps along with his time spent shadowing novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard made him aware of the importance of leadership in the workplace. And when he saw McGuinn’s humble desire to develop her craft, he knew they would make a good team.
According to studies, those who are mentored are 130 percent more likely to hold leadership positions and because of the beneficial role of mentorships, 90 percent of mentees show an interest in mentoring others later in their lives.
“It’s a rite of passage for when you get to a certain point of your career and craft that you can share that with someone,” says McGuinn. “It’s invaluable.”
While mentorships may seem like an alliance that only serves the younger, less experienced colleague, the relationship also helps the person in the leadership role as well.
“I benefit from the mentorship more so in some ways,” says Cutchins. His mentorship with McGuinn has expanded the breadth of his writing, helped fine-tune his diplomacy skills, and kept him in the loop with things that are culturally relevant. “You learn from people with good character no matter what their age or experience is,” he says.
Finding Your Mentor
Finding a mentor may seem like a daunting task, but through some research you can identify the right candidate. Look to your elders within the communications field and take note of the people you admire. Does this person have skills you want to develop within yourself? Do they command the respect of the professionals in your industry? Are they known for supporting their colleagues? Can you easily connect with them? These are the questions that you should be asking yourself when tracking down the right person to guide you in your career.
Your mentor already may be sitting across from you at work, or you may have to look beyond the confines of your office walls to find your match. Join a professional association like Public Relations Society of America or the American Marketing Association and start attending networking and industry events to make connections.
Cruise LinkedIn to scope out interesting profiles or troll Twitter to see who is leading important discussions. Ask an esteemed colleague or former college professor if they have any recommendations of people who might be a good advisor for you. After you have narrowed down your list of prospects, invite each candidate out for coffee to see if there is a connection. “That chemistry is absolutely necessary,” advises McGuinn.
Also, your city’s chamber of commerce or a local business organization may offer a mentorship program that screens candidates and pairs you up with the right person.
Establishing + Maintaining The Relationship
Upfront establish what you both, as mentor and mentee, seek from the relationship. With your mentor, outline your goals and strategize a plan of attack. And then schedule meetings for every month or so with an agenda of topics to discuss. Or if you are looking for something a little more low-key, maybe your mentorship style is more informal, spit-balling ideas over beers and meeting up a few times throughout the year.
Now two years into her mentorship with Cutchins, McGuinn reminisces on their first structured meeting, a whiteboard session where Cutchins had her list out her aspirations as a writer. “The more we put on the board, the more excited and confident I became because those were goals that I could very easily see and achieve,” she says.
After their first mentorship session, the two started meeting to discuss movies and books, like Stephen King’s “On Writing,” and over the years the mentorship grew to incorporate casual lunch meet-ups and formal writing sessions. As your mentorship develops, feel free to add new activities that can strengthen your bond as mentor and mentee. Attend a networking event together. Invite your mentor to a work party. Go see an exhibit that you both are interested in.
“A mentor is only as good as the questions the mentee asks,” says Cutchins. You are given access to information and tools through your mentor, so be sure to tap into their industry knowledge.
While a mentorship exists so you can absorb the knowledge of your elder, be sure to be respectful of the time and attention they are giving to the relationship too. Stay focused during meetings, accept criticism with grace, show your appreciation, and be sure to reciprocate the love, asking if you can help your mentor with anything.