The Importance of Finding a Mentor

23 02 2010

What is the importance of having a mentor?  Does everyone need one?  Should a person have more than one?  These are all questions that I have asked in the past and continue to hear from students and professionals to this day. 

Before we get started, I wanted to share with you some of the terms I’ll be using.  This should help you better understand According to Wikipedia, mentorship refers to a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The receiver of mentorship was traditionally referred to as a protégé, or apprentice but with the institutionalization of mentoring the more neutral word “mentee” was invented and is widely used today.

In my opinion, there are really three main benefits of mentorship:

Learn from Career Experience

As a mentee, the professional growth that mentorship fosters is amazing.  Mentors are there for you.  Ask them how they overcame certain challenges, perhaps a work-related challenge that you’re facing at the moment.  People love to talk about themselves, especially when they know someone else is benefitting from the knowledge being shared.  It’s also a great way to ask your mentor how they got to where they are today.  Find the commonalities with them, and learn how to implement your strengths to get ahead and climb the corporate ladder. 

While you’re building this relationship with your mentor, remember that you’re also building your professional network.  Keep them in the loop with your career aspirations and goals.  Having someone in your corner as a referral can give you that added edge you’re looking for. 

Learn from Personal Experience

Some of the best conversations that I’ve had with my mentors over the years don’t necessarily fall under the umbrella of “career advice” and haven’t been tied to a specific company or industry.  Instead, it’s been the life lessons that have been passed on to me that I believe I cherish most.  Hearing stories about life, love, and family continued to help me develop as a better person.  Have you ever talked to someone on the bus, train or airplane?  It is truly fascinating how people will share things with perfect strangers.  That’s the best part of the human race – we’re conditioned to see the good in everyone and want to nurture them. 

Life is too short to go through it scared to talk to anyone or to avoid meeting new people.  My advice is to get out there, reach out, and just be nice.  A smile goes a long way – it’s made me some of the best friends I have today.

Network Across Business Lines

When most think of mentorship, they automatically think of someone in their field or line of business.  While that is beneficial to an extent, breaking out of your professional circle of comfort can bring a much better understanding regarding other industries, business, and fields of study.  By breaking outside of this circle, you have the opportunity to connect with others who may see life and business differently, bringing you a unique perspective that you didn’t have before. 

An Important Part of the Onboarding Process

Many businesses around the world, Fortune 500 or the small business started by a local entrepreneur, recognize the importance of mentorship.  Companies like PepsiCo, Inc., Walmart Stores, Inc.,  Aflac, Inc., Wells Fargo & Company, and Bimbo Bakeries USA all have programs in place that use mentorship as part of the onboarding process.  When a new hire starts their career, a member of upper-management is assigned to them to help provide leadership and guidance not only as a mentor, but as a corporate ambassador.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a professional relationship with someone who’s “been there, done that”? 

I have been very fortunate to have had many different mentors in my professional career.  Some are in my line of business (now HR and Recruiting, but formerly Broadcasting) and some are outside my realm of general knowledge.  No doubt, the advice and guidance that I have received from leaders (including my peers and competitors) has proved beneficial in the advancement of my professional career and personal growth. 

“Giving is better than receiving because giving starts the receiving process.” – Jim Rohn

This quote holds true in just about everything, including mentorship.  While you’re at the receiving end of advice, guidance and experience, remember that your mentor is also gaining experience from you.  Whether it’s a fresh, creative perspective on something, or new technology, in any good relationship, you’re giving just as much as you’re receiving.  A friend put it best when she said “I don’t know that I would be where I am today without my mentor. I’ve grown professionally, personally, and spiritually. Everyone needs that special person!”

So, go ahead.  Find your mentor.  Ask questions.  Learn from them.  Add value.  When you make that connection, it’s something that will stick with you throughout your development both professionally and personally.

Please feel free to add your comments below – I would certainly value your input. 

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11 Rules for Networking

16 02 2010

When you hear the term “networking”, what comes immediately to mind?  Well, if you’re a computer programmer, maybe something different, but the rest of you are thinking along the lines of people standing around drinking cocktails, haphazardly passing out business cards, with the ultimate goal of getting a job or new lead.  This is a pretty accurate description, but networking works so much better when you bring something valuable to the table while seeking it at the same time. 

Here are some tips that I’ve learned along the way (do you ever stop learning?) that might prove useful to you as you attend networking events, mixers, and really anytime you meet someone new. While they’re titled “rules”, please don’t think of this as an exclusive list.  There’s so much more!

Rules of Networking:

Rule #1 – Never pass up an opportunity to network – you never know where the connection may take you.

Rule #2 – Have a plan.  What do you want to accomplish?  Do you want to get a job?  Learn something new?  Rapidly hand out as many business cards as possible? (Hint: don’t do the last one…)

Rule #3 – Be yourself.  Your true personality and character will show as you get through the process.  Set yourself apart from the competition by just being genuine.

Rule #4 – Have a firm (but not crushing) handshake.  This applies to both men and women.  No one wants to shake hands with a dead fish.  Look them in the eyes, grip their hand firmly and shake twice.  Then, let go.

Rule #5 – Always have a business card.  Even if you don’t have a “business”, this is how you’ll leave information with someone who may be interested in you as a candidate. If you don’t have a card, what would you do? Write your info on their hand in permanent marker?

Rule #6 – Dress appropriately.  Women: if you don’t have pockets, carry a small purse or handbag for business cards.  Men: don’t bring a briefcase.  Instead, bring a normal sized folder (there are some great leather padded ones for cheap) with space to keep business cards and a pen and paper if you need to write something down.

Rule #7 – For networking dinners, lunches, etc.: It’s not about the food. Eat before you go – you’ll have a free hand to shake when you approach someone. 

Rule #8 – Ask open-ended questions.  This means questions that ask who, what, where, when, and how as opposed to those that can be answered with a simple yes or no. This form of questioning opens up the discussion and shows listeners that you are interested in them.

Rule #9 – Network with everyone.  Don’t just focus on those that are where you want to be someday.  Network with others that are in similar roles or positions that you are in.  You can learn a lot from these people.  Listen to their challenges and approaches, then use that information to make your networking more impactful.

Rule #10 – Ditch your friends.  You’ll see them everywhere else.  The goal is for YOU to get a job, right?  Would you bring them to the interview?  (The correct answer is no.)

Rule #11 – Follow up within 48 hours.  Do what you say you’ll do.  Send a thank you note to those that you met.  A short note will suffice.  NOTE: A handwritten, mailed note goes a LOT farther than an email will.  Sometimes, email is requested.  If it’s not, send the handwritten note.  These guidelines should get you started in the right direction. 

As I mentioned before, these aren’t the only rules for networking – I’m sure that you’ll be able to find many more out there.  These are simply a few tips to get you started.   I’ll touch on a few of them throughout the coming weeks in more detail.  Remember, it’s not all about you.  While you can learn a great deal, you can also add great value by providing the same of information and opportunity to those that you meet.  The world gets smaller everyday.  Wouldn’t you like to have someone that you could call with expertise on any given subject?  You know, say that “I have a guy that does that…”.  You never know when you’re going to get a phone call or email asking you for your expertise.  Be ready and armed with your arsenal of knowledge!





Preparation Before Graduation: Senior Year

13 02 2010

Senior Year
It seems that just yesterday, you were leaving home and embarking on your very own collegiate journey, discovering a whole new world of responsibility and wonderful things only a college experience can offer.  But now you’re a Senior and reality is setting in.  You’re graduating in 8-10 months and you need a J-O-B.  College loans and credit card bills could be piling up, just waiting for you to get your first job.  But, let’s not think of it as just a job.  This is a CAREER.  After all, that’s why you went to college, right?

Here are some things that you should be doing as a Senior (in addition to all the suggested preparation you should be doing Freshman-Senior year):

  • Industry Laser Focus – Keyword: laser.  You’ve done the research, completed the interviews, and even job shadowed here and there, learning exactly what industry you want to start your career in.  At the time of your Senior year, you should be laser focused on one specific area of industry.  Make your list of top 10-15 companies (or less) that you want to work for.  Then, follow the steps below.
  • Internship – By now, you should have completed (or will upon graduation) 1-2 internships.  Most degree programs require that at least one be completed.  Remember, in addition to this being great experience that allows you the opportunity to gain the inside look into a company, this is also the feeder program for the company’s full-time entry-level positions.  Some companies retain up to 60% of their interns for full-time positions upon graduation! 
  • Career Fairs – You’ve done the research, conducted the interviews with others, and narrowed your search to the elite few.  Don’t forget about the career fair, even as a Senior.  This is a great way to follow up on recent applications and resumes that you have already submitted.  If you are still undecided, it’s a great way to learn even more about the company and where you would fit within.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  That’s what the recruiters are there for – to answer career questions about the opportunities available at their company.  If there’s a line at the table, don’t pass by the company thinking “I’ll come back”.  Stick to your gut and line up.  Then, set yourself apart with all the research, knowledge and experience you bring to the table.
  • Interviews – This is the last step.  After you’ve done everything above, this is where you have the chance to really shine.  Be yourself and let your experience set you apart from the rest of the crowd.  Interviewing is a great stand-alone topic that will be covered later down the road in this blog.

I hope that this information is useful to you as you embark on your journey throughout college into the professional world.  The list isn’t meant to be all-inclusive, so please feel free to find what works best for you.  I’ll continue to share things that I’ve learned along the way as well as information from others throughout the industry in this blog and via Twitter (@kbaumann or www.twitter.com/kbaumann). 

Best wishes to you in your endeavors.  Now, go after the career of your dreams!





Almost There: Junior Year

12 02 2010

Junior Year
As a Junior in college, you’ll begin to feel the urgency of the graduation deadline.  You’ll be out in the “real world” in less than 2 years.  What have you done to prepare yourself for the career search?  Here are some things that you should be doing as a Junior (in addition to what you should have already done your Freshman-Sophomore year):

  • Industry Focus – By now, you should have confirmed your interest in 1-2 industries.  All the research you’ve done over the past couple of years will now begin to pay off.  You’re starting to figure out what you want to “be when you grow up”.  Having your focus narrowed down to 1-2 industries will allow you to gain even more insight from others.  Don’t be afraid to ask people in that industry if they enjoy their career and how they got there.
  • Career Fairs – As a Junior, career fairs should be a two-part approach: 1. To land your second internship (whether it’s 2nd year at the same company or new company) and 2. Get serious about full-time opportunities after graduation.  Don’t wait until the Spring career fair to do this.  When schools starts in the fall, recruiters are in hiring mode, filling positions for the next summer and fall management classes.  Don’t miss your chance.

Is this all starting to make sense?  Again, this is simply my take on student preparation.  Others have said similar things on the subject.  I’d be happy to help where I can.  Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/kbaumann) or Twitter (www.twitter.com/kbaumann).  Keep working towards landing your dream job!





After Year One: Sophomore Year

11 02 2010

Sophomore Year
You made it!  Your Freshman year is officially behind you!  Someday, you’ll look back and yearn for the days….it just may be a while before you reminisce days gone by.  As a college Sophomore, you have some experience under your belt.  You can even navigate campus without getting lost!  For some, this is easier to achieve – I still got lost on a campus with 1000 students!  Your Sophomore year is where you really hit your stride.  The basics are almost out of the way, and you’re beginning to focus on your major. 

Here are some things that you should be doing as a Sophomore:

  • Research – The research doesn’t end with your Freshman year.  This is the time to dive deeper, looking into the primary opportunities for college students and graduates.  Understanding the company’s culture and history will allow you to make a well-informed decision.
  • Industry Narrowing – Narrow down the list of industries to your top 2-3.  Once narrowed, dive deeper.  What is the typical day like in the life of an employee? 
  • Career Fairs – Attend the college’s career fair.  Most have an all-university fair, then one specifically for your major of study.  Go to both if possible.  Establishing a rapport with recruiters is helpful in understanding your fit within their company.  Plus, it helps them remember you!  PS. Don’t grab the free stuff and ask “do you have any jobs?”.  This is in poor taste, in my opinion.  The “stuff” is there for the taking, but treat it as a gift following a meaningful conversation.  Educate yourself enough to know the basic opportunities to discuss.  You don’t have to memorize the company’s history, mission and vision, but it’s helpful if you know SOMETHING about the company.
  • Internships – As a Sophomore, this is your first opportunity to land an internship with a company (large or small).  The experience and knowledge gained through an internship is very valuable.  Gone are the days where the intern is the official “coffee maker” or “go-fer”.  Today’s internships provide a high-level inside look into a company, allowing students to experience various aspects of the business.  Ultimately, most are given special projects which will be presented to executive leadership at the end of the internship.  Bring your A-game.  If they’re impressed with your performance, you could land your first job there!

That wraps up what most HR professionals (including myself) suggest doing to maximize your time as a student on campus. Check back later for tips for your Junior year. 

As always, your comments and participation are welcome.  I would love to hear your feedback, helping me shape the future of the Campus To Career blog.  Thanks in advance!





Preparing for Success as a College Freshman

10 02 2010

How do I prepare myself for a career while I’m in college?  How do I position myself to get ahead?  You may be asking yourself these questions.  Over the next few days, I’ll be highlighting some tips for all classes of students:

Freshman Year
As a college Freshman, you may find yourself feeling completely lost, overwhelmed by the excitement of the freedom college allows and the newly acquired sense of responsibility.  There’s the impending doom of choosing your college major (which will no doubt be changed at least once or twice) and reality that hits home when you find yourself rolling quarters for laundry.  Unless you’re lucky enough to have mom do the laundry when you come home for the weekend (all good things come to an end).  There are hundreds of activities, clubs, organizations, fraternities and sororities to choose from.  All of this hits you in the face as soon as mom and dad drop you off, say their goodbyes and drive off into the sunset. 

A common misconception: Freshman have no business attending career fairs.  WRONG.  Here are some things that you could be doing during your first year in college that will position you for success:

  • Research – Research different industries and the opportunities each provides for a college graduate.  This is a great way to better understand industries like Retail, Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG), and Insurance for example. 
  • Interview – Interview your peers and faculty advisors.  Ask them how they got to where they are today and if they could share pointers with you.  People love to talk about themselves – especially when they are helping someone.
  • Job Shadow – You’re still a little too young (academically) to be considered for most internships, but that shouldn’t stop you.  Lots of companies will allow you to “job shadow” with someone, whether it’s for a day, a week, or sometimes longer.  February 2 is National Job Shadowing Day (also Groundhog Day – coincidence?). Take advantage of it and get your appointment secured!
  • Resume – Just because you’re a Freshman doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a resume (or at least one started). Even if your jobs up to this point include waiting tables, tending bar, or asking “how may I help you?”, it all adds to experience.  Chances are, you’ve worked on a team, displayed communication skills, and even served as a leader on a project.  Use it.  Experience is experience.  The resume should be updated at least on a yearly basis.

Check back later this week for some helpful tips to consider as you finish your Freshman year and begin as a Sophomore.  Enjoy college, have fun, and make connections!