Whether it’s the first day of classes at the start of the semester or the first day at a new job, social tendencies push humans to make connections with others in an effort to ground themselves to the new, unfamiliar environment. Even if all an individual achieves is small talk with the person sitting next to him or her, that relationship evolves from merely a stranger to an acquaintance. The business industry is expansive which can be especially overwhelming to students trying to obtain an internship or job. Networking is essential, but certain circumstances call for a more personal professional relationship: mentoring.
What is a Mentorship? A mentorship is a one-on-one relationship between an experienced and less-experienced professional. Unlike networking, an individual and their mentor will have a set goal or need to be met and discussed. The primary intention is to help an individual grow and be guided, rather than to simply foster and maintain a relationship.
To gain greater insight on the ins and outs of a mentorship, I interviewed Ohio State graduate and former UBWA President, Nicole Balkenbusch. Nicole has an extensive background in Finance and Accounting and currently works in Amazon Customer Service, specifically in Executive Education for Leadership Development. She has exhibited her passion for helping younger business women succeed throughout her time in prominent companies such as Amazon and P&G, as well as her time as an undergrad at OSU. Due to this drive to help others as others have helped her, Nicole has mentored many women and has entailed her advice on how to find, foster, and flourish from a professional mentorship.
How to Find a Mentor The first step in many tasks, including finding a mentor, can feel daunting especially when it comes to speaking to professionals as a student or newly initiated businessperson. To compartmentalize the process, Nicole detailed three methods to finding a mentor she has used during her career: building a spiderweb network, using a company mentoring program, and asking for a referral.
The spider web is created in a way “where once you meet with someone you click with, you ask to meet again and then ask them for a referral to meet someone new. Over time, you build out your network ‘spider web.’ Nicole advises asking people who have been on a team longer, who have similar experience, or who can give expert advice on a decision.
A more formal way to find a mentor is through a company program. This can look like small group circles with colleagues, peer mentoring, or the traditional mentor-mentee relationship. At Amazon, Nicole expressed how the company has an online program much like online dating, where employees create a profile either looking for a mentor or mentee.
The final method is asking for a referral. Nicole stated how “when [she] was new to Amazon and didn’t know many people, [she] asked for referrals from [her] manager, a peer, or former leader.” A simple introductory email from the referral to a potential mentor helps as well, as she stated that she has “hardly ever gotten a ‘no’ answer.”
Once a potential mentor has been found, one should ask for a brief, 30-minute introductory meeting. The mentee will take time to detail their background and why they are in search of a mentor. Much like an interview for a job, the mentee will have researched prior to this meeting to ensure that the mentor is a good match. Additionally, both individuals should agree upon a specific time commitment, meeting cadence, and goals that are wanting to be met.
The Benefits of Mentorships In the short-term, mentorships are beneficial in solving a present need or issue. Nicole expressed that it is okay to move on or outgrow a mentor once a goal is met. Mentorships can continue past this stage as well. Nicole explained that a mentor “can help you through big life/career decisions, as they’ve seen you grow in your career and can offer advice that’s specific to you, since they really know you as a person. I’m a big believer in having a ‘personal board of directors’ where you have different mentors for different reasons.” Just like friends, different mentors are in your professional sphere for different reasons. Whether it be to have someone to look up to, challenge you, or rather to “have [a] completely opposite experience than you to help you think differently,” it can be highly advantageous to have a “board” of mentors to guide you through your professional career.
Nicole also expressed how mentorships are not just insightful for the mentee but also the mentor: “I learn just as much from my mentees as they learn from me – I learn about new trends, how younger employees feel about a team or department, so I love investing time in others.”
Figuring out how to be promoted, finding a different position on a team, or deciding on a substantial work or life decision can all feel difficult. Mentors offer guidance, advice, and a relationship that can make these tasks less daunting. Investing time in others, whether it be through networking or a mentorship, ensures a path towards growth and stronger connections with others. Take it from Nicole: “network early & often: when you need a mentor, sponsor, [or] advocate, it’s often ‘too late’ to get one.”