In the end of 2017 University of Tartu started a pilot mentoring programme for bringing together talented alumni and students to make the most out of each others’ skills and knowledge base – students could have a sneak peek into the professional „grown-up“ world, whereas the alumni could potentially find a future employee or gain some fresh „out of the box“ ideas that have arisen from young and fruitful minds.
We had close to 200 candidates who were paired up to start a fulfilling journey of self-development and networking. To our great surprise, there were almost the same number of mentor candidates as there was for mentees. This once again proves that mentoring is not beneficial just for the students but also for the alumni who have ten, twenty or in some cases even 40 years of expertise in a certain field. They are hungry for young blood!
Since we are planning to start another programme in autumn – more polished and thought-out, because we as well, constantly learn and improve our product – I have put together 5 most important hacks that anyone who wishes to apply should think about beforehand.
You cannot have a prosperous mentoring relationship if you are unable to define your goals and expectations. Mentoring is not providing a buffet table where you can choose a suitable meal at any given time out of the vast array of options. You must have some kind of an idea what you are planning to achieve and pinpoint some methods to achieve it. Mentors, as well as students, have limited time on their hands and this cannot be spent on smalltalk hoping that something sticks.
Think about where you see yourself in 5 or 10 years. Does your mentor or mentee help you towards this goal? If not then you must admit it and move along. No one is glued together! We help to form the pairs according to candidates’ needs and wishes, but sometimes they are not a 100% match.
Be independent and fearless
The biggest mistakes we’ve seen in the programme is people getting scared to reach out. Some mentors and students were expecting continuous support from the university throughout the programme. I am not talking about minor technical errors or relevant questions about the upcoming courses. I am talking about full on hand-holding e.g if the other party could not be reached or one had a problem defining his or her aims in the programme. The university can not do this job for you. Mentors and students are not paired up for the sake of the university but to fulfill the very personal aims of their own. You must be independent and brave enough to walk through this path on your own!
For most mentors, ambitious and fearless mentees are the ones to pass their torch onto and guide along the path of life. Be fearless and you will be surprised at how rich your life becomes. Very few things will impress your mentor and other people your paths cross with later in life more than taking action and being aggressive about achieving your goals.
Be open to new ideas
Trust the person you are paired up with. Sometimes the mentor and mentee do not have the same academic background, but their goals and personas are a perfect match.
“The most productive and fulfilling mentoring relationships exist between individuals who are fully committed to the relationship and open to treating each exchange as a two-way process of learning”(Pickett, 2015). Bright ideas and a different look at life from a history or a biology student can be just what a top IT-entrepreneur is missing. And vice versa, an old professor with his straightforward methods might be the right person to accelerate a mentee’s journey on the road to success.
To our great surprise and somewhat dismay the mentors were the more committed part of the relationships. Some mentees found out half-way through the programme that they needed to go abroad for a longer period or forgot to contact their mentors altogether. If you are not committed to the relationship, whether as a mentor or a mentee, then we rather not have you in the programme. Applying just for the sake of it does not benefit anyone.
Work hard and strive to make your sessions as intellectually stimulating for your mentor as possible. They are there to help and potentially offer you a long-lasting commitment. This also goes for the mentors. Be committed to guiding a student who is not perhaps always the most talkative and outgoing. It does not mean that they do not have ambition.
This is usually the part where mentees can lead and offer methods to keep track of each other’s efforts and goals. The easiest way is to use a shared Google Docs or Sheets where both have editing rights. Skype, Messenger and/or Whatsapp are elementary in programmes like this to reach out. We had very successful pairs who did not meet even once but had a fruitful cooperation throughout the months. An excuse that the mentor and mentee live in different cities is a poor one.
There are also a lot of web-based project management tools such as Trello, Basecamp, Weekdone, etc. to keep track of everything the mentor and mentee have agreed upon, from long-term aims to the minute details. If setting visible goals and well thought-out time schedule is daunting then re-read the previous four suggestions!
We will start accepting applications for the next mentoring programme in autumn 2018.
Pickett (2015), the Entrepreneur, URL: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/242568
This article was written by Teele Arak, Head of Estonian Marketing and Alumni Relations.