People have asked me in recent years about mentorship. The biggest thing that they want to know is what the value of mentoring is. I want to share what I know about mentoring in STEM and technology fields. Throughout my career, I've built my own advisory board. Whether it's in my work or outside of my career aspirations, I have created a group of go-to advisors that help me move forward. Sometimes, this is as simple as bouncing my ideas back-and-forth with these leaders so that I can see a clearer picture of what I may not have comprehended before. Other times, it's getting encouragement and advice on how to take my next steps. This is the benefit of having a mentor: a good mentor can help you be your best self.
Now, be aware that your mentor is your confidant who gives you direction and options; however, at the end of the day, YOU have to make your own choices. Your mentor isn't there to tell you whether you have to go into this direction or that direction. You need guidance and that guidance will only help you down the path you choose to take.
In partnership with amazing ladies on board, I developed and run global Girls in Tech Mentorship (GITm) programs as well as participated in a few panels and keynotes last year. The reason why I have invested a lot of energy into this program is because it serves a mission that I truly believe in: the idea that mentorship matters in helping rising young adults in the tech field. My goal is simple: to expose the younger generations to STEM fields. Whether it is educating our colleagues, mom, dad, cousins, aunt, teachers -- everyone can be a part of this, and it's is very important that they are. All of this goes to show that you must know what to look for in order to get the right advice for your career aspirations. Invest time into things you care about so that your future mentors (and mentees) will have the optimized effects.
So what type of mentors should you look for? And how do you utilize mentors to help you? Here are my top 5 pieces of advice:
1. A good mentor breaks you out of your comfort zone. There will always be people around to comfort you, but a good mentor is one that encourages you to keep improving and pushes you into new experiences. I've had one mentor who told me to break out of my comfort zone and plan to thrive in an unknown field to gain knowledge. It has been a rewarding experience taking this advice, so I know firsthand that this works!
2. A good mentor knows your personal strengths and weaknesses. Try to improve upon your weaknesses by finding the mentor who will complement them. You don't always have to be exactly similar to a mentor to get along. In fact, finding someone with different skillsets than you will be helpful since you'll have even more to learn from this person.
3. Know how to utilize your mentor. You've finally found your mentor leader, but now what? I remember facilitating the Girls in Tech Mentorship matching one-on-one program and after the first hour, I initiated the questions for the mentees to ask because they were often unsure. A lot of time, mentees asked the mentors, "what do you think I should be doing?" or "what are the hottest trends in companies?" Those are the wrong questions to ask as a start before sharing who you are.
4. Perception vs. reality. Your vision might differ from the reality of things -- be specific and know how to make the most of your mentors by asking those hard questions. If your relationship with your mentor still doesn't align with what your goals, try to take the leap of faith by asking your mentor if there is anyone else you should connect with or network with in a certain field.
5. Don't feel like you have to find someone in your industry or in the same location. And yes, you should have both men and women as your mentors. Find those who are very different from you because you'll get the best range of possibilities and perspectives. Also, remember: in this new digital world, you could foster a mentor-mentee relationship via Skype, Face time and other virtual online tools. This will help you find an even wider range of mentors to complement your work and give you fresh insights.