Dear First Gen,
When I think about my journey, I am reminded that I did not arrive where I am today on my own. There were a few amazing advisors and mentors that guided me along the way. They offered me good advice that I share with my interns and others I believe would benefit from the information.
But it wasn't always easy to find a good mentor, either. There were instances when I sought someone to be my advisor/mentor and it yielded great results. Other times, I had to kindly distance myself from people because I no longer saw a benefit to our relationship.
When I was a student, my assigned career advisors served me well. I remain connected with a couple of them to this day. But there were several times I decided to venture out and speak to the head advisor.
In college, I attempted to meet with different advisors because they rotated in and out of the positions. I needed to meet with several of them so they would know my needs and be able to assist me when someone else was not available. In this case, I couldn't have a “regular” advisor.
I made it a point to meet with the Dean of the Career Development Office in undergrad because this individual was consistent and possessed invaluable information, like access to off-campus positions I needed for my field placement courses.
In law school, I scheduled advising appointments with the Dean of the Career Development Office as well. He had expertise about positions I was seeking and told me about the school’s reciprocity policy, which I used even after I graduated. My meetings with him were always helpful and I usually went to him even after I had met with the other advisors if they were unable to help me in the way I was looking for.
Whether I wanted to know how to work in a judge’s chamber or for a non-profit, locally or in my home state, my initial meeting with an advisor often clued me in how our working relationship would work. I became a good judge of not only who would be accepting of my numerous questions, but also who would give me a thorough explanation. I was looking for specific and actionable advice on the process or strategies to improve my chances of getting an internship or securing a job.
The common thread among each advisor I encountered was their willingness to help upon seeing that I was eager to be guided. They understood that I would not stop seeking their help until I obtained the results I was looking for. I sometimes learned after the fact that they talked with one another to find a different approach for helping me reach my goal.
Over the past 10 years, I have identified a key characteristic I look for in an effective mentor: their openness to serve as a mentor.
And that is true whether they intend to serve in the role of a mentor or not. In fact, on many occasions, the individuals I engaged with did not sign up for the position or put themselves out there to fulfill this role in my life.
I recall a moment with one of my mentors who delivered a presentation at a Council on Legal Education Opportunity event on mentorship. She shared that there are subtle ways for someone to become your mentor. I wrote her tips down, and later used them on her.
I learned she lived in my home state, had a career path similar to what I aspired to, and seemed open to being a mentor. I introduced myself after her presentation, spoke about a few things related to law school, and got her contact information.
A few times during the semester, I emailed her and when I returned home for a break, we met for lunch. She was not aware that I was “courting” her as my mentor. The last semester before my graduation, I told her that her presentation led to me setting a goal for her to become my mentor, and that she had provided me with the exact strategy to make that a reality.
I am not sure if she expected someone to use her own suggestions on her to establish a mentor-mentee relationship, but I made it my mission. This relationship benefited me greatly because she would give me advice based on her own experience and the experiences of her mother who was also an attorney. It was like a two-for-one mentorship deal.
While I've certainly learned other qualities that can make or break a mentoring or advising experience, the willingness to help or being open to become a mentor has always been most important to me. And it has undoubtedly helped me to rise as a student and new professional.
Tell me: What do you value in an advisor or mentor?
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