Ever wonder what working in your field will be like? How you'll get a job and what's needed to make it in your field? How to make yourself stand out in the competitive marketplace? The key can be establishing a relationship with a professional in the field who wants to share their expertise with you!
Career Mentoring refers to the developmental relationship between an experienced and more knowledgeable expert and a student.
A mentoring relationship allows you to connect one-on-one with a mentor volunteer for an informational interview, or for other conversations. Mentors are able to offer professional development, networking, and real world experience to you - the next generation of leaders. In volunteering to share their expertise, career knowledge and talents, they can help you make the transition from the academic to the work environment.
The Professional Network consists of RIT alumni, employers and friends of the Institute who volunteer to provide you with career development support, counsel, friendship, reinforcement and constructive examples. You can access the list of volunteers through RIT Job Zone (Professional Network link is on the top toolbar).
Mentors are good listeners, and provide constructive feedback about career goals and job search plans. Mentors are dedicated people who want to help you expand on current strengths and to develop new skills necessary to be successful at work.
Watch the RIT Professional Network Your Key to Free Career Advice presentation.
When working with your mentor volunteer, whether for a one-time informational interview, or a longer mentoring relationship, please adhere to the following professional standards:
- Discuss your needs and expectations with your mentor; think about and communicate what you want out of the program.
- Do not ask a mentor for a job.
- Be committed to follow through with agreed upon goals.
- Be receptive to suggestions and feedback.
- Keep your mentor informed of progress.
- Contact your mentor if you are unable to attend scheduled meetings in a timely manner.
- Realize that having a mentor is a privilege and work hard to take advantage of the opportunity.
- Maintain a professional demeanor.
- Respect the parameters you have established for your relationship, and thank your mentor for their advice and guidance.
We have also asked our Professional Network volunteers to adhere to the following when serving as a mentor for RIT students:
- Listen to the needs and expectations of the student
- Work with the student to help him/her develop and establish realistic and obtainable goals
- Keep the student aware of his/her progress
- Encourage the student to explore new areas
- Offer suggestions and feedback
- Be committed to serve as a resource to the student
- Contact the student if they are unable to attend scheduled meetings
- Be knowledgeable about the services of Office of Cooperative Education and Career Services
If you would like to develop a mentoring relationship, initiate a request through the RIT Job Zone system, using the Professional Network tab. You can search the Network by employer, or view majors for someone closely aligned with your career interests. If you’d like to establish contact, simply click the “Interested” button for that volunteer. You'll be able to personalize an email which will be sent through the system, and if they are available, they will respond directly to you. Together, you establish the parameters of the relationship, including timeframe, goals and objectives, and communication method (email, phone, IM, face to face, etc).
LinkedIn is an interconnected network of experienced professionals from around the world, representing 170 industries and 200 countries. You can find, be introduced to, and collaborate with qualified professionals to help you accomplish your goals.
- LinkedIn has over 47 million members in over 200 countries and territories around the world.
- A new member joins LinkedIn approximately every second, and about half of our members are outside the U.S.
- Executives from all Fortune 500 companies are LinkedIn members.
Your professional network of trusted contacts gives you an advantage in your career, and is one of your most valuable assets. LinkedIn exists to help you make better use of your professional network and help the people you trust in return. Their mission is to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful. They believe that in a global connected economy, your success as a professional and your competitiveness as a company depend upon faster access to insight and resources you can trust.
MentorNet is a program developed to help students and early career researchers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields to succeed. This is done in two ways:
- By helping you create your profile as a future professional on the Web, where you can share your goals, network with your peers and future colleagues around the world, and continually evolve your profile as you grow and change and get serious about your career. Sign up for our on-line newsletter containing informative articles and more helpful career advice.
- Through the One-on-One e-mentoring program, which helps find you a personal mentor, someone who has already launched and established their career and from whom you can seek help, wisdom, or just some advice to nurture your relationship. Fill out a protégé profile, which asks for basic information and your interest in discussing common mentoring topics, such as school decisions, work/family balance, and gender issues. This profile also identifies a protégés preferences for a mentor, such as gender, field of work, location, ethnicity, alma mater, and citizenship. A protégé can sign-up and fill out a protégé profile as long as he or she has an .edu email address.
Please check out their web site at http://www.mentornet.net/protege.aspx for more information and to get you started with a mentoring relationship!
- Discuss your mentor's career and educational background, and how individual work values have impacted his/her career choices.
- Critique your portfolio, resume, cover letter, and/or school project.
- Attend a networking event or professional meeting together.
- Plan a job shadow day for you, or a tour of your mentor's workplace.
- Introduce each other to professionals within your field who have similar interests.
- Practice a job interview, on the phone, in person.
- Discuss the Co-op Program and your degree program, and compile a list of your mentor's contacts that could assist you in your job search.
- Read and discuss a book related to your field of interest.
- Remember, this is an advising relationship, for information gathering purposes. Do not ask your mentor for a job.
*These are suggestions; we encourage you to tailor your mentoring relationship to suit your needs and the availability of your mentor.
- Respect confidences and trust each other.
- Discover common ground and respect your differences.
- Be yourself and be flexible.
- Be a good listener.
By Mary Ellen Coleman
(RIT, BS 1986; graduate certificate in Interactive Multimedia from RIT in 2003), Advisory software engineer at IBM and the IM Information Architect for Client Support, and Mentor, shares her thoughts on ending mentoring:
As the summer winds down, we approach the end of our formal mentoring commitment. However, that doesn't mean that the communication must stop. Now is a good time to evaluate the relationship and decide where to take it next.
When evaluating mentoring relationships, I take my cue from my students. I am genuinely interested in what my students are doing in school, at work, and in their communities, so once a month, if I don't hear from them, I send them short emails asking how they are doing and sharing briefly what I am working on. If I don't hear back, I figure they are busy or have moved on, which is fine. Periodically sending emails is a good way to keep the relationship going on an informal basis. Using social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter can also maintain informal links.
Don't be afraid to ask for direct feedback too! I don't care if my students followed through on my suggestions or not, but I do like to know if a nugget of information I gave them was particularly helpful or irrelevant so that I can use it (or ditch it) in the future. I also appreciate it when my students share with me actions they have taken to resolve conflicts and the results so that I can pass along these experiences anonymously to others.
Mentoring students has given me a chance to experience (even in an indirect way) school and work situations beyond my own, which helps me in my work. My team provides online content to help customers use IBM software in an optimal way. Even though my students may not use IBM software, working with their viewpoints forces me to evaluate my assumptions and helps me design new strategies. Mentoring has also helped me grow as a person, to empathize with others and look beyond my worries. Best of all, mentoring keeps me connected to RIT, and to all the learning and fun that happens in the community!
Mary Ellen Coleman is an advisory software engineer at IBM and the IM Information Architect for Client Support. In this role, Mary Ellen creates a structure for support engineers to use when sharing knowledge on the Web, and analyzes customer accesses to this knowledge. Mary Ellen started working for IBM in 1986 in White Plains, NY, where she supported mainframe operating systems. After moving to New York's Hudson Valley in 1993, she developed technical documents and animation for mainframe systems, and tested cluster systems software. She joined IM Client Support in 2006. Mary Ellen received a B.S. degree in Computer Science from RIT in 1986, an M.S. degree in Technical Communication from RPI in 1997, and a graduate certificate in Interactive Multimedia from RIT in 2003.
By Sal Pellingra
(RIT, MBA '01), Innovation and Marketing Director, Ampac Flexibles, shares his thoughts on the importance of having a focus on Communication:
Hey, what's good? Ah, modern communication! No matter where you are, what you are doing, or more importantly, what kind of job you have, communication remains one of your most important attributes. Whether it's asking for directions, negotiating a purchase, a business meeting, a phone conversation with a client, discussions with a manager, coworker, or even your significant other, good communication can make or break the situation at hand. People skills, or soft skills, are becoming more and more important in the business world and a critical success factor during the interview process. As college students, competency in verbal and written communications can propel you above the sea of applicants competing for those few job opportunities out there. Both are needed to gain the interest and attention of others which may ultimately get you what you desire. This could be a job, the right deal on a car or apartment, a second interview, or even an enjoyable night with friends or family. To help with this, let's review five considerations to help your communications work for you and not against you.
There are many examples of poor communication. I have been involved in almost all of them. Sometimes problems arise because you are so focused on what you want out of the communication, you forget to take into consideration the other party's motives. Because of this you fail to be properly prepared. This was the case when I tried fighting a speeding ticket. A police officer pulled me over and wrote me a ticket for doing 72 in a 55. I was positive I was not in the 70s and quite sure I was below 65. So sure, in fact, I decided to go to court and fight the ticket. When I entered a plea of not guilty, the judge asked for an explanation. I told him there was no way I was driving 72 MPH. He asked me how fast I was driving. I explained that I didn't believe I was going over 65. I barely got the words out of my mouth and he said "fine, you're guilty of doing 64 in a 55. $100. Next." Clearly not the outcome I was expecting and a good example of poor preparation on my part. I didn't think of his motive; deterring any speeding and bringing funds into the local court. Lesson, be well prepared with your communications and take into consideration others motives, not just your own.
Another common problem is not adapting your communication to your audience. Don't assume your mode of communication is always acceptable to others. Typically you need to make adjustments depending on who you are communicating to. This could be based on the social or business setting, the education level, the employment level, the gender, the language, or the geographical region or culture of the audience. Advertisers have learned this the hard way. There are some good examples where advertising in one region failed in another because the advertiser failed to prepare and understand the local language. Some good (or bad) examples follow. When Kentucky Fried Chicken entered the Chinese market, they unhappily discovered their slogan "finger lickin' good" came out as "eat your fingers off". In Italy, a campaign for "Schweppes Tonic Water" translated the name into a much less desirable "Schweppes Toilet Water!" The newly bankrupt General Motors had a real problem when they introduced the Chevy Nova in South America. The cars weren't selling until they finally realized that in Spanish, "nova" means "it won't go." Sales improved after the car was renamed the "Caribe." The worst example was when Coors put its slogan, "Turn It Loose," into Spanish, where it was read as "Suffer From Diarrhea." Clearly these advertisers did not take the time to understand their audience and suffered the consequences. In the same way, you shouldn't speak to managers at a bank with the same language you would speak to a group of high school students. Language needs to be adjusted based on the audience or the situation. Some situations require formal communication, some informal, in some cases humor can be a help, in others a hindrance. The onus is on the communicator to read the situation and adjust the style and content of the communication. So, lesson two is, take the time to understand how your audience communicates and make adjustments to ensure it is more easily understood and accepted.
Not only do you need to adjust your communication based on your audience, you also need to ensure your communication is clear, otherwise communication can become miscommunication. In some cases even a literal interpretation may not be what is intended. Some real examples from court questioning show that well.
Q: All your responses must be oral, OK? A. Yes.
Q. What school did you go to? A: Oral.
Q: What is your date of birth? A: July fifteenth.
Q: What year? A: Every year.
Again, the questions appeared to be thought out but potential answers were not. This goes back to preparation but also to clarity. You can't talk above or below your audience and communications may need to be tailored to ensure clarity based on the situation. Lesson three; be sure communications are clear, concise and understandable to your audience.
Not to dwell on suffering from diarrhea but over-communication is other trap poor communicators run into. Sometimes in an effort to ensure all the details are covered and no potential stone is left unturned, communicators can over-communicate and lose their audience. The tragedy in this is that very thorough preparation and hard work can fall flat because over-communication resulted in a bored and lost audience. This becomes even more of an issue in today's busy and fast-paced environment. Communication should contain the necessary components but it doesn't require all the extraneous details. The details can be documented in attachments if needed but are not essential to the deliver the primary message. Oral communication suffers from this as well. Long drawn out communication, or communication that is only about the communicator results in losing or turning off the audience. There should be a good give and take so that the communication is more participative. People feel best about communication when they are able to take part in it. It also gives you time to relate to your audience in order to adjust your own communication. A quote from the Greek philosopher Epictetus should be taken to heart "we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak" point well taken. In written communications if you're too wordy you will lose the reader and they may miss the importance of your work. Even a resume can be overwritten. Let the reader in on what's important and leave the rest out unless asked. In conversations communication should be a give and take. One way conversations generally travel the wrong way. Lesson four, don't over-communicate.
Good communication is like a good dance. It needs to be fluid, move gracefully and sometimes should change tempo, and it needs to involve both partners. The lead dancer can't totally take over the dance or the partner and the audience won't enjoy the dance. Also, good dancers require practice and preparation in order to be versatile and successful. Watch Dancing with the Stars. At first the celebrity dancers are pretty poor at most dances but they improve quickly because they practice and prepare. Do the same. Lesson five is part of all the other lessons. Good preparation results in good execution.
So let's review. In order to communicate effectively you need to better know who you are communicating to and you need to understand their point of view. As much as you'd like it to be, it's not all about you. Get to know who you are communicating with and take into consideration what they might want out of the conversation. Getting to know your audience and preparing will also help you adjust your communication so it is in the language of your audience. If it isn't in their language it can be misinterpreted. Similarly, ensure the communication is clear. Miscommunication is often because of poorly worded or unclear communication. Speak clearly, annunciate, use good grammar and word your communications so they are clear and understandable. Don't run at the mouth or over write. Keep your audience engaged. And last, prepare, prepare, prepare. Don't walk in cold and assume you will do well. Prepare yourself so you will do well. Most circumstances do not allow you a second chance so be prepared and get it right the first time.
Okay. Enough said on this subject. Go forth, communicate well, and prosper.
By George Heron
RIT Alumnus (Electrical Engineering '75), Owner,
BlueFin Security, LLC, and Mentor, shares his thoughts on leadership.
We are living in pretty exciting times and today's graduates are facing some unique challenges entering into the workforce. Even when I graduated in the mid-1970s, the economy was down, but it is nothing like the current turmoil from a plunging stock market, government bailouts for banks and auto manufactures, and escalating taxes forcing small businesses to slow down hiring or even shut down entirely. This truly must be a daunting reality for grads getting ready to step out into the business world with newly-honed skills, lofty ideas and an eagerness to get on with their lives in the real world. But if one has a core set of sound mental and ethical traits, otherwise known as character, I believe that any economic or social chaos can be weathered.
Character matters; and leadership descends from good character that is honed and applied in hard times. Whether it is a Knute Rockne who takes a failing football team to victory in the coming season, or a President Reagan who turns around the world's entire political scene, the leadership exhibited not only inspires those being led, but it also instills a fear and doubt in one's adversaries. That kind of leadership comes from firmly knowing what needs to be done, having the confidence and courage to forge a course that either isn't popular or easy to achieve, and the fortitude to stay the course even when immediate feedback is not favorable.
As an aside, I believe that true leadership is far deeper and more meaningful than just having charisma. Perhaps you know of someone who speaks eloquently and is able make groups feel good about certain situations; but at the end of the day that person might not have the experience or capability to actually follow the advice he promotes. This is not true leadership, as it is not linked back to core character attributes.
So how can you develop enough core traits to even begin applying them in entry-level industry positions upon graduation? Even great leaders start out young and inexperienced, yet they build upon their character and develop into leaders along the way – and probably without even realizing it. Character traits of universal applicability in developing into a leader include honesty, integrity, dependability, loyalty and enthusiasm, just to name a few. Curiously, these same core character traits can be exercised on campus every day as a student in your work groups, in your labs, in the cafeteria and even in the parties that you attend.
Ethical behavior, as only one simple-yet-important example, transcends your "major", your religion, or your hobby. I was a ham radio operator back as an undergraduate and I spent lots of time with other hams in the amateur radio station (called K2GXT) beneath the College Union. It was then that I forged relationships with like-minded radio geeks; and based in great part on ethical and moral behavior that this group demonstrated with each other, I am still friends and in contact with some of these guys today. People see your character, no matter how hard you might try at times to hide it or fake it.
A good leader does not seek validation from others about things he feels are right. If you feel that ultimate success is determined by what others see as good or right, you will always be disappointed. As a student transitions into the workplace there's a tendency to feel the immediate need to be expert on all issues, which of course is not possible. Striving to keep your core character traits in place is important, as you will be tempted and influenced by an entirely new set of circumstances that will test your will power, your resolve on ethics and honesty, and countless other daily encounters that will determine if/how you are able to strengthen your character.
I've made plenty of errors in my career as an engineering manager and as a human being. I've tried to learn from each such that when that situation came about again I could make a better decision, and each step would tend to strengthen my character. Along the way, leadership opportunities came as an acknowledgement of others seeing the strength of character, thoughtful confidence that experience brings, and a desire to hold true to the principles that really mean something in life.
After thirty-some years in business and family, my own core character traits are well entrenched and rooted with a strong belief in myself and the guiding hand of God. I don't know what tomorrow is going to bring for my business or even my family, but I do know that the leadership principles that I still practice every day will bring me through the uncertainties of the economy and allow those I'm associated with to flourish.
George Heron, EE75, currently runs his own information security firm (www.bluefinsecurity.com), and was previously the VP and chief scientist for McAfee, the CTO at SafeNet, and served in numerous engineering and business leadership capacities since graduation. He lives with his wife and daughter in rural Maryland and stays active in various RIT academic and alumni activities.
By John Roman
We asked John Roman (RIT, COB '91), National Director, Litigation Technology Services, of Nixon Peabody, to share his experiences with and recommendations for using LinkedIn.
How long have you been in LinkedIn?
I've been using LinkedIn for a little over 2 years.
Why did you decide to create a LinkedIn profile?
Several reasons. The first is I wanted to reconnect with old colleagues. It's always good to stay in touch with those who you've worked with in the past. Second, it provides me with keeping a current contact list since any time one of my contacts makes a change it automatically is updated in my contacts list, unlike using a contact manager where you have to keep it manually updated. Third, it allows me to network with others within my field of business. The information often shared within LinkedIn is directly related to my job and industry. It's always good to stay current. Fourth, you never know when you will need help from someone, whether it be with a current job, or if you are searching for a new position. The more people you know the better your chances are for finding someone who can assist you.
Do you have any particular experience in which LinkedIn helped you in something related to your career?
Yes, I needed to find a person with a specific expertise related to computer forensics. I was able to use LinkedIn to search and found a few people in the Rochester area who could assist me.
Why would you recommend that students participating in the Career Mentor Program have a LinkedIn profile?
When searching for a job it is often not what you know but who you know. Establishing a LinkedIn presence that articulates any expertise a student has through a co-op program or through their course of study is a good thing since it provides people who may not know you further insight into who you are as a person. From a pure networking standpoint, the people you meet in college may be in a position to help you with your career, so it's good to stay in touch with them. Finally, the more people a student meets should be added to a LinkedIn account to simply keep in touch.
Finally, can you share some tips for using LinkedIn?
Keep your experiences limited to a few lines. Don't write a book. Most people don't read someone's entire profile. Second, if you're going to have a LinkedIn account keep it updated. Third, don't place anything on a LinkedIn account that you don't want people to use against you because it placed you in an unflattering situation. Since the inception of social networking sites, like Facebook and MySpace, many corporate recruiters, human resource managers, and hiring managers may search Facebook or LinkedIn to find out more about the candidate. You wouldn't want pictures of yourself guzzling beer or something that would place you in a "bad light" when looking for a job.
By Dhananjay Phadke
Tell us about your Educational Background (program and year).
I completed my MBA spring 09 with Supply Chain Management concentration.
Why are you participating in the Career Mentor Program?
My main intention in participating in this program was to meet somebody who is experienced from my career field. I want to gain the most valuable information about my chosen area of career. I hope this program will help me understand minor things which cannot be taught from books and in the classroom but which I should know about the supply chain profession to be successful in this field.
Who is your mentor and where is he/she actually living?
My mentor is Maximilian Fahr who is currently in China working for a project with Airbus.
With a long-distance mentoring relationship, what are the principal challenges you and your mentor have been facing?
The most critical thing is that we cannot meet each other face to face, and this leads to major challenges. First, we have to rely on e-mails. And since we cannot talk to each other, it is a difficult thing to correctly convey the message to the other person. E-mails need to be very specific and to the point to make it more convenient for the mentor. Second, e-mails cannot be lengthy since it is difficult to read the long and detailed e-mails and then reply as far as mentor is concerned. This is because the mentor is a working professional and does not have enough time to go through long e-mails. So as a student I need to write everything briefly but at the same time convey what I have to. I'm also not able to write e-mails every other day. At the same time I need to be in touch with the mentor. Cultural differences may matter under such circumstances. Written English may be interpreted differently in different cultures. Thus conveying my message may be a difficult task. Another communication problem is one of time differences. Due to global time zones, day in US is night in China and vice versa. As a result e-mails are frequently replied to late. As far as mentor is concerned the challenge is to find time from his busy schedule and guide me with my questions. I frequently need to follow up on the e-mails with reminder e-mails. The reason is that he can not reply to my e-mails immediately and then forgets about it. As a supply chain professional he is always travelling and does not always find enough time and resources to respond to my mails.
What have you learned from this experience especially in the communication aspect?
It is definitely beneficial since my mentor has been quite generous in telling me most important things about my chosen career field. I have learned many lessons about the way people work in the supply chain area. Some of the things matter to me even more because they cannot be taught in the class. They need to be understood from the professionals. For example, my mentor told me a lot of things about his project which was quite interesting to know. Thus I got to see a live project which otherwise would not have been possible.
As far as the communication aspect is concerned, I benefited by communicating with a person who is far away and there is just one source of communication available, i.e. e-mails. I learned how to write short and to the point e-mails and convey the message. I also got to know how to write professional e-mails which may be appreciated in the corporate world. This also helped me to work more on my written English.
Another important lesson is that people do have time constraints and this should be kept in mind while writing professionally. One of the challenges mentioned earlier was that of time zones. So the timing of the e-mails should be appropriate to get an immediate response.
How do you think you will apply these lessons later in your daily life (at work, school, etc.)?
These lessons will definitely help me when I start working professionally. I am now confident of how to communicate with people who are far away or maybe in a different country. Globalization has forced people to work with different people from different cultures and environments. As a result one has to first understand the way people think in different cultures and then write accordingly. This is especially difficult if you can never meet the other person. I think this is the most valuable lesson from this program.
Which recommendation(s) would you give to other mentees participating in the Career Mentor Program that are having long-distance mentoring relationships?
My recommendation would be to write short and to the point when communicating with the working professionals. So learn to write the correct way. Understand that the mentor is generous in sparing time with you and sharing information with you. So be appreciative. This helps keep your mentor involved in the conversation. He has to be convinced that his guidance is really helping you. So be proactive in writing e-mails. You need your mentor and not the other way round. So ask your questions in a polite way.
By Alicia Tejada
One of the mentees participating in this year's Career Mentor Program, shares her experiences with her Mentor, Kenneth Reed, of Cerion Energy Inc. Alicia is in the last quarter of her Master's degree in Sustainable Engineering at RIT, and next fall will begin her Ph. D in Sustainability at RIT.
Why are you participating in the Career Mentor Program?
I believe the mentorship opportunity is a great way to learn what to expect from the world outside the school. I think one of the best ways to learn leadership skills is to learn from great leaders and their experiences and that's exactly what this mentorship program offers, the chance to get guidance from great and successful professionals.
How has been your mentoring relationship developed?
Our first contact was via email. I am fortunate enough to be mentored by a local person, so I was able to meet him in person where he works. There we talked about our professional interests and career goals. We try to keep in touch by email and we have scheduled a meeting next week.
Tell us a little bit more about your first meeting with your mentor.
My mentor invited me to his company Cerion Energy, Inc. There he introduced me to part of the staff of the company and explained their business and projects. Then, we went to have lunch and continued our talk about our background and goals. Since then, Kenneth has been sending me very interesting information, such as papers and links about sustainability.
What have you learned so far?
My mentor has taught me to evaluate options from different perspectives and be critical when doing so. I have also learned the importance of networking and how to use creativity to make a business successful.
Would you like to be a mentor someday? If yes why?
Yes, I would love to be a mentor. I think it is a great opportunity to pass knowledge of previous experiences, and as a mentor, a great opportunity to also stay fresh and learn from the mentee's different perspectives. It feels great to give, especially if it is knowledge.
By Amy Koster
Tell us about your Educational Background (program and year).
My name is Amy Koster I am a fourth year Industrial Design student meaning I research, design, and fabricate products to be aesthetically and functionally suitable for a variety of end users.
When did you participate in the Career Mentor Program?
I have participated in the mentor program for the past two years now. In that span of time I have had three mentors. I learned a great deal from them all. I first discovered the program through an email notification as a sophomore. At that time I had just switched my major to Industrial Design and just began taking classes in the program. I knew I needed guidance and advice. Always looking to improve my skills and knowledge within the field of product design I yearned to know what stood ahead of me and what to expect next. Working in the 'real world' was something I really begged to understand and this mentor program seemed like a great idea and a perfect networking tool.
Who were your mentors?
My first mentor, who I still keep in contact with to this day, was Justin Adleff a product designer at a consultant firm called Bally Design in Pittsburgh, PA.
My second mentor was Jeffery Lester, a video-game developer at Sucker Punch Productions in Seattle Washington. Ironically he graduated from the Industrial Design program but as everyone well knows, life leads you on all kinds of paths and his I.D/model making background led him to 3D video game design. It is very cool.
My newest mentor within the last couple weeks is Diane Seaver, a Industrial Design graduate from two years ago working in Rochester at an exhibit design firm. I had the pleasure of knowing her while she was still a student at RIT. I was a sophomore at that time.
How were those mentoring relationships developed? By e-mail, phone, face-to-face?
With Justin it started very email heavy. I was only a sophomore and he was so experienced I was nervous and felt mildly intimidated so I did not have the courage to pick up the phone and call him. The most amusing part of how our mentorship started off is that I imagined him to be a 50 year old man with grey hair and a ton of wisdom behind him. The wisdom part was correct but when he traveled to RIT from Pittsburgh one weekend we met for coffee and he was definitely so far off from what I had imagined. He was young, with brown shaggy hair and a dynamite personality that I could really relate to. The beginning of my junior year, after developing my portfolio that summer, I traveled down to Pittsburgh with a group of senior level students for a portfolio review at Bally Design. That helped tremendously.
With Jeff it was a different story; because he lived and worked in Seattle we couldn't meet up as easily. Our communication was, and still is, through email. Where Justin hit some busy weeks with work and couldn't get back to me as quickly, Jeff was always there to bounce ideas off of.
With Diane, because I had known her previously, because she was extremely local, and because by this point I knew the go around with the mentor program and had developed a strong networking confidence it was easy for us to meet up and talk. We actually scheduled a date at Java Wally's here on campus within the first week of talking.
What were some of the topics you talked about?
The topics spoken to Jeff and Justin were fairly similar because at that time I was looking for an internship and had never experienced working at a product design firm. I was very naïve still. A lot of the conversations were 'advice' based, such as how to improve my skills and make myself more marketable, pointers and tips on what to avoid, how to go about the job hunt, how to keep my mind focused on what truly mattered because as a student, you're just worried about everything. Almost every conversation focused intensely on what my projects were in school and how to develop my portfolio. I can't even tell you how often I was sending my portfolio, resume, and personal website to them for critiques. Nowadays, after Justin helped me acquire an internship at Bally Design, I have a better idea of what to expect after graduation so the conversations are less mentor-like and more in lines of how a relationship is between co-workers.
With Diane, I think, at this point in my life, she is the perfect mentor for me right now. She's semi-fresh out of school but with enough post-graduation experience to help me figure out those 401K's, negotiating salaries etc. I'm keenly interested in her experiences, because graduation is a scary step and it can be mind numbing. She still knows what it feels like to be a student; she hasn't forgotten that feeling yet, because eventually we all do. That is just the nature of growing up. Justin and Jeff sometimes have a hard time relating to me in that way.
What was the best thing of each mentoring relationship? Do you have any special anecdotes you would like to share with us?
The best thing of each mentoring relationship. Hmm.
With Justin he really wanted to see me succeed in every way and wasn't afraid to tell me what I was doing wrong and in the end, without him, I never would have had the amazing experience of working at Bally Design. I grew tremendously there. He was very matter-of-fact with no sugar-coating so when I wanted hard advice I went to him. Jeff was more tactful which created a nice balance. Because let's be honest, sometimes people just need an emotional boost to know they are doing something right and are on the right track.
With Jeff the fact that he graduated from this program and developed a career in something completely different yet still related showed me that there is an entire world out there and in the end, a degree is just a degree it is not necessarily your ticket to a happy life. It signifies not just a major but an entire four years of education that can lead you to lord knows where doing lord knows what. He taught me that I'm never stuck, and the door is never closed and I get out of life what I put in to it.
With Diane it is still very new. So far I am really benefiting from how close we are in age and experience level. I can relate to her more on that level.
What did you learn from those mentoring experiences that you will use to improve future ones?
With Jeff and Diane I learned that it is okay to have fun in emails. Things don't always have to be 'professional'. In the end we are all human beings and to throw a smiley face and an exclamation mark into an email is not a death sentence or professional suicide. It will honestly make all conversations more comfortable and I'm sure the person on the other end will be glad not to have to play that game. With Justin I was just beginning this networking process; I did not know that it was okay to be myself. In reality I did not have to try and talk older than I was. It is all about being yourself, your mentors are here to help you grow, it is why they signed up, you are never bothering them. That is another thing I would tell anyone interested in this program. Just be yourself and use them, they are at your disposal.
Would you like to be a mentor someday? If yes, why?
I would absolutely love to be a mentor. I think they are a valuable resource. It has been a great experience for me; I truly believe I achieved success and learned the ropes much quicker than peers of mine that never searched for guidance from other individuals. Why waste time fumbling in your own head when there are people out there willing to help you make sense of it all.
What recommendation(s) would you give to the mentees that are participating on the Career Mentor Program this year?
Honor your commitment. Respond timely to your mentors. Don't make them wait, they are doing you a favor, show them you appreciate them. The easiest way to do that is to be timely and follow through on your word. For example, if you say you are going to send them something through email on this date, make sure you do. Your mentor probably has a very demanding job. Please be appreciative of your mentor's time and investment.
Be yourself! Don't be ashamed at feeling dumb. There will be days you might feel inadequate, naïve, and ill prepared in comparison to them, but believe me, they already figured that when they signed up. They want to help you be the reverse of those things. Never be ashamed to tell them you don't know and don't understand something. They want to help you.
Help your mentor help you. Figure out exactly what you need from your mentors. What are your weaknesses and strengths? A lot of what I had to do is figure out where I needed to improve, which is the only way they could help develop a plan with me in order to move forward. Self-assessing is a large part of a mentor relationship.
Expect support, not miracles. You can expect a certain level of support and advice from a mentor, but he or she can't solve your problems for you. Don't ever expect them to get you a job, for example. Perhaps the most valuable quality a mentor can offer is an alternative point of view. A mentor can put the situation in perspective, offer feedback, serve as a sounding board, and identify resources that may be helpful to you. All great things.