Last year, regular Optima Magazine contributor Claire Moulds became a mentor for the first time. Here she and her mentee reflect on the process and the benefits, and, overleaf, others talk about what their mentoring experiences have meant to them…
Last year I did something for the first time – I became a mentor. I’ve been considering it for a while, but never quite got around to it (blame a busy work schedule, blame getting married, blame life getting in the way). However, when my former university contacted me about a new e-mentoring programme that they were launching, matching final year students with alumni working in an industry they were interested in learning more about, I seized the opportunity to get involved.
What quickly became clear over the weeks that followed, as I worked with my mentee, Melissa, is that I have far more advice to offer than I first thought. Once we’d covered off ‘the basics’ of the work I do, the skills employers look for and how to break into an incredibly competitive job market – including arranging for her to talk to junior members of staff and helping her to secure work experience placements – I found our conversations straying into the ‘bigger picture’.
At Melissa’s age I too was completely focused on choosing the right career and securing that all-important first job after graduation, without thinking through the implications for other aspects of my life. Seventeen years down the line, I now appreciate that I was lucky in the choices I made – some of my peers weren’t as fortunate, finding themselves in cities that didn’t suit them and further from home than they realised they wanted to be, all for a job they often went on to discover wasn’t right for them.
That’s why I can, with the benefit of years of experience, underline the importance of thinking beyond your career. It’s the reason I recommended travelling now if that’s what she wants as, with each year you work, it becomes harder to commit to taking a year off. It’s why I told her to really think about where she wants to live as, if it’s in the country or by the sea, it’s better to build that into your life now rather than find yourself tied to big cities because of the career path you’ve chosen or, worse still, having to wait until you retire to pursue your dream. It’s also how we got on to the subject of family and how it’s easier to ‘be there’ – you for them and them for you – if you’re a few hours apart, not at other ends of the country. More than anything I hope I’ve shown her that life is about so much more than the job you do.
I remember just how daunting it is choosing your career – unless of course you’ve known from the age of ten that you want to be a doctor, say – and how quickly responsibilities mount up once you’re a ‘grown up’ going out to work every day. As a result one of the best pieces of advice I can offer, and I hope the most comforting, is that you can change your mind. Your life isn’t set in stone if you choose a certain path at 21. I loved working in PR when I first graduated and for over ten years I concentrated on being the best PR professional I could. But over time I’ve learnt that what I really love and what makes me happy is to write. As a result, I’ve reduced the amount of PR work I do and, painstakingly, have grown the journalism side of my business. It’s not been easy but it shows that dreams change over time and it’s never too late to follow them.
I certainly wish that I’d had a ‘me’ at Melissa’s age, especially in those terrifying weeks post-graduation when you realise you have to go out there and ‘do it’. After transitioning easily between GCSEs, A-levels and University, suddenly having a big empty space to fill does cause even the most confident young adult to have an ‘eek’ moment.
What has surprised me most though – other than the fact that I can remember exactly how it felt when I was in her shoes – is how much I have got out of the process. As well as seeing a young person develop and thrive under my guidance, I’ve enjoyed meeting other mentors taking part in the programme to share our experiences – and I’ve also looked at my own job with fresh eyes. We all have those moments when we tear our hair out and think ‘why do I do this for a living’ but sometimes we need to take a step back and see just how amazing what we do is.
I’ve become evangelical about the mentoring concept. To other would-be mentors, doubting or debating whether they have the time, energy and drive to get involved I’d say ‘go for it’: you won’t regret it for a minute and might find you get just as much out of it as your mentee does.
Claire’s mentee, Melissa Fawcett, explains the huge impact mentoring can have, even when mentor and mentee live in different cities.
“I chose to take part in the University of Sheffield’s e-mentoring scheme in order to get some general career guidance and to learn about the PR and marketing industries from a professional. I was very fortunate to be matched with Claire, who had created a successful career for herself. Fortunately, both of us were determined to make the experience worthwhile, so we kept in regular contact and discussed everything from personal skills and interests to CV writing and job hunting.
Without the experience, I’m sure I wouldn’t be in the position I am now. I learnt so much about how to present myself as a candidate, what kinds of roles I should aim for and how to reach my full potential. I’ve gained a huge variety of work experience in the last year through being open to new opportunities and by having a level of confidence in my own abilities that I didn’t have before.
Claire’s advice and attitude will remain with me throughout my career, reminding me when to push myself and how to make the best of opportunities. By having such a well-matched and attentive mentor at a crucial period in my life I was able, having put into practice the advice and tips that she gave me, to kick off my career within months of graduating.
After my experience as a mentee, I’d love to be able to mentor a student myself, to pass on some of the wonderful advice that has been given to me. I’m sure it’s very rewarding to see someone benefit from your past experience, as they start out on their own career path.”
Karen Jones, Director of Iolite Consultants Ltd in Hertfordshire, recently joined the Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs (IOEE) mentoring programme and is currently working with her first mentee from it, Lynn.
“My company specialises in supporting organisations with cultural change and programme management, so I have always coached and mentored people as part of that work, and I truly believe coaching and mentoring are one of the greatest gifts that you can give people. Not only is it a crucial part of our business but it’s also a way for us to give back to the community, for example through the work we undertake with the staff at our local hospice.
I attended the IOEE’s ‘Meet a Mentor’ session in Birmingham, which was designed to give mentors and mentees the opportunity to set up new mentoring relationships. I exchanged contact details with a number of potential mentees on the day, including Lynn who was in the process of setting up her own HR consultancy.
People have to want to be mentored to get the most out of it so I waited for the mentees to contact me after the event rather than contacting them myself. Lynn emailed a few weeks later as she was starting to feel a little uncertain about her new venture and wanted to use me as a sounding board.
Being able to discuss different ideas with someone and have them both support and challenge your thinking is one of the most beneficial aspects of mentoring. It’s also the reason that it’s not vital that you both come from the same background, live in the same city or work in the same industry, as a fresh perspective is often what’s required.
I feel privileged to be a part of Lynn’s journey and to have been able to help her on her way. Sometimes just being at the end of the phone when she’s really needed someone to talk things over with has made all the difference and shows that, while mentoring does require you to invest time in the relationship, you don’t always have to meet in person. A great deal can be achieved through emails and phone calls if you’re worried about the size of commitment required, and some people actually prefer this more informal approach.
I’d say to anyone considering becoming a mentor to go for it! Establish a relationship that works for you and be honest with your mentee about your availability. I’ve loved seeing Lynn’s business take shape and have really enjoyed being a part of this exciting chapter in her life.”
Adds Chief Executive of the IOEE, Sarah Trouten:
“Mentoring is an excellent way, possibly the best way, for businesses to team up with knowledgeable people with relevant general experience and specialist insight. For those being mentored it can be a brilliant source of practical support, give reassurance that they’re on the right track or even become the catalyst for exceptional business success. For mentors, the exchange is hugely rewarding and many find that they learn and develop as much as those they are mentoring.”
‘Meet a Mentor’ sessions are organised by the IOEE and SFEDI and the events have been funded by both Lloyds Banking Group and the Government Office of Equality. If you’d be interested in volunteering as a mentor, visit https://ioee.uk/ to find out more.
When bullying caused 15-year-old Aidan to lose his confidence, mentoring offered a way to take back control.
“I was being bullied really badly at school and one day, on the way home, this boy followed me, pushed me against a wall, took a knife out and threatened to stab me. Thankfully a man came out of the house opposite, saw what was happening and the boy ran off in one direction and I ran in the other.
I was in complete shock afterwards and felt traumatised. My confidence fell massively and I became extremely anxious. When I told the school they put me in touch with the Youth Connexions mentoring programme. I was really nervous when I first met my mentor, Amanda, as I didn’t know what to expect. She was so easy to talk to though and, most importantly, she listened to me without judgement.
Being mentored has involved me opening up to people and learning how to think things through properly. We’ve talked through issues at home and school and Amanda has helped me work out how to resolve them. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without her!
I was completely lost last year but, thanks to having a mentor, I can now put the incident behind me. I used to be this shy boy at the back of the classroom. Now I am the opposite, a completely different person and I have a fresh start.”
For Amanda, from Bushey, mentoring is an opportunity to make a difference to the lives of young people.
“I work full time in the accounts department of Salmon Ltd and have been volunteering for the last 15 years. I’ve been a mentor on the scheme for four years now – having first been told about it by a family member – and like the informality of it.
The sessions are arranged to suit the young person, take an hour every week or two and my job is to talk about what’s going on in their lives and to give them the tools to make good decisions. After all, I can’t tell a young person what to do, it’s their choice. For me, the highlight is when someone tells you in a session that they have solved a problem by themselves.
I’ve got a lot of respect for young people as a result of being a mentor. I didn’t realise the amount of pressure kids like Aidan have to deal with and it’s therefore been great to witness the transformation in him this last year. He doesn’t need my help or guidance anymore, he’s got his confidence back and that’s the best feeling. The experience has boosted my own confidence too as I’m naturally quite a shy person – mentoring means I’m now more confident talking to a wide variety of people.”
If you’d be interested in becoming a volunteer mentor on the Youth Connexions mentoring programme which supports 11-19 year olds, email email@example.com or call 01992 555661 for details.