By Laura Lam
As the saying goes, “Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.” Whether you are a newcomer to Canada, or you have worked here since the beginning of your career, you may have learned that mentorship can play a huge role in supporting your success. My mentors have played a critical role throughout the course of my career. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how experienced – mentorship provides us with another viewpoint and lens for addressing ideas that percolate in our minds. It can help us focus in times of confusion or adversity. Having a mentor allows us to discover things that might be rooted inside of us all along, but we just need someone outside our friends and family to shine a light on it. Whether you are on the job hunt in Canada or even if you are employed, here are some lessons for a successful mentoring partnership:
Mentorship comes down to cultivating a relationship
I have seen (and applied for) formalized mentorship programs and I don’t doubt the success of these programs. But I personally find the most impactful mentorship relationship are ones that can be organic and cultivated over the years with conversation, check-ins and general life updates. I think back to my first job, mu manager was someone I got to learn from and over the years developed a relationship with. While our working worlds do not interact directly, I still know that this person is someone I can go to for help (and vice versa – he know he can go to me for help). I have struggled with worrying about “bothering” someone for their time, but I have slowly recognized that many mentors don’t feel this way – they want to help, they want to hear from you and they get a lot of rewards out of the relationship as well.
A few practical steps to get you started:
- Think about your current connections – are there connections you genuinely enjoy speaking with, or interested in knowing more?
- Reach out to them – this can be an informal chat, or if you have a particular question, use that as a starting point.
- Maintain contact – no, don’t spam your contacts, but perhaps you can find ways to keep the thread of your discussion going.
If you already have a mentor, set at least a yearly check-in to see how they are doing and tell them a bit about what you have been up to!
Set clear expectations of what a mentor does and does not do
My previous job had many “mentors” who were available to offer their time and expertise, but one thing I heard repeatedly was an increase of “mentor-fatigue,” where too many mentors were giving advice on how things should be done, but no one was actually vouching, supporting or working alongside the mentee. In the most successful mentorship relationships I have had, my mentors supported me through a difficult situation or shared the load in accomplishing something together.
A few ways you can deal with mentor-fatigue are:
- Examining your own reasons for connecting with a mentor. Make sure you are asking the right questions, to the right person.
- Taking a step back – Listen to yourself. You need time to filter through the information you have heard and determine what pieces of information is the most useful.
Inherently, I believe that we all have an internal compass that tells us which relationships work better for us, where our bond and connection with someone is not formulaic. Trust your gut – quality of relationships is more important than quantity!
Tips for finding a mentor for newcomers
Immigrant employment councils like TRIEC and IEC-BC have excellent standardized mentorship programs that you might be able to take advantage of. Their services match you with a professional who can help you navigate through the field of your choice. They have employer partnerships with leading organizations to help you gain footing in your job hunt. But aside from employment councils, settlement agencies also assist with this – so don’t limit the scope of your search.
These formal networks are not the only way to find mentorship opportunities – leveraging your own networks to approach someone who has been through it before works wonderfully as well. There is something about approaching someone who shares similar lived experiences. I find reaching out to my own networks and speaking about my situation candidly always generates some ideas of people to connect with.
Instead of going through the traditional work-focused questions, try thinking of these points when building your relationship:
- Do you and your mentor have things in common (connectors) outside of work?
- What values do you and your mentor have in common?
- Is there anything you can help your mentor with or collaborate on?
- What are your working and communications style? I.e. do both of you think tactically or are you both high-level thinkers?
You don’t have to align on all fronts, but understanding is the first step!
Have you worked with a mentor, and if so, how has it helped your career? We’d love to hear from you!