I recently read somewhere that every young professional should have a mentor. I really believe that’s true. If it wasn’t for my mentor, I wouldn’t be an instructional designer today. In fact, I’d probably still be scratching my head wondering what the heck I’m going to be when I grow up. Mentors provide motivation and support, they answer questions and help guide their protegé through the twists and turns of the road to professional success.
Here’s how I met my mentor: A few years ago, I was about one year into my newfound career as a training developer. I was placed on a contract at a high-tech company working for an ID named Maggie. Despite the 20 year gap between us, we became fast friends. Since I’ve met her, Maggie has inspired me to become an instructional designer, like she is. She has become my mentor, and I am her protegé. My relationship with her has been invaluable with regards to growing as an ID and training developer.
I’ve developed a list of the top benefits of having a mentor, based on personal experience.
Mentors answer questions
We all know that the internet can offer a wealth of information on just about any topic. But sifting through the good and the bad, and trying to find the answers you are really looking for can be a difficult and lengthy process. Not just that, but a website full of information doesn’t have years of personal experience and the ability to answer questions specific to your situation.
Anytime I have questions about how to do something related to instructional design, I ask Maggie. Over the years she has completed countless instructional design contracts, and I don’t think there’s been a question yet that she couldn’t help me figure out. Whether it be “What questions do I ask in an audience analysis?” or “do I REALLY need an individual quiz question for each learning objective?” she will always give me her best answer, based on her expertise and life experiences. It’s nice to know that if I am ever truly stumped about something, she’s probably been there before also, and figured it out.
Mentors share knowledge & techniques
Someone who’s experienced in their industry, and who has done a job for a long time, has picked up tips and techniques along the way to help them accomplish their work. Having a mentor is great in that you can learn from their years of experience. You can pick up the tricks of the trades, the best practices and the tried and true methods for doing your work.
Over the years of working as an ID, Maggie has amassed a wealth of knowledge and time-saving tricks for doing her work. From watching how she does things, I’ve picked up a lot of her techniques. For example, Maggie uses an audio recorder to record all SME meetings. Afterwards she writes out a transcript, in her own words, of the conversation. She can then easily re-arrange the information in the transcript so that it makes sense and is organized. This is a great technique that I picked up from her. She will also share templates and documents with me, to give me examples for how to do things. Really helpful.
Mentors provide criticism & feedback
Receiving criticism can be hard but it’s a really important part of career development. A mentor can provide you with the feedback that you need, give you constructive criticism and pointers on how to improve. They can help review and proofread your work, and then share tips on what works for them. It is way better to have your mentor tell you that you are doing something all wrong than to have your boss tell you.
When I am working on an eLearning project, I’ll show Maggie my documents, templates and my ideas to get her feedback. She’ll give me her honest opinion and offer suggestions on things that can be improved or maybe omitted. She corrects my terrible grammar and removes my random commas and apostrophes. Not only that but while she corrects me she provides me with explanations and tells me why its wrong, which is key in not repeating a mistake.
Mentors are supportive and motivating
Sometimes people hit a point in their career where they think to themselves: “Am I really cut out for this?” or “Maybe I went down the wrong career path…”. When this happens, your mentor will be there for you to motivate you and remind you a) why you are doing what you are doing, and b) why you are great at it.
Maggie is always providing me with encouraging words and telling me why she thinks I will succeed. She’s excited for me when I talk about my blog and my Twitter account. She’s always telling me that I’ve got a great career ahead of me, and any employer would be lucky to have me working for them. Hearing this actually really increases self-confidence and really helps me to believe in myself and my skills. Whenever I am feeling unsure about where I’m headed, I think about how successful she is and it reminds me that I can have the same success as her, if I keep applying myself and working hard.
Mentors will put in a good word for you
Nobody should find a mentor just in hopes that the person will find them a good job. That being said, mentors have experience and have built a reputation in their field. They usually have already established a solid network of connections, clients, former employees and employers, etc, etc. If a protegé can really demonstrate quality work and an understanding of the job to their mentor, that mentor will likely, in return, let that protegé benefit from their network and put in a good word for them. They might even extend potential job opportunities or introductions to connections in the industry.
Since I’ve worked for Maggie on the first contract, I’ve been really lucky that she wants to work with me again. She always lets me know about upcoming potential opportunities, and she’s already written me an awesome Linked In recommendation. She’s more than willing to introduce me to other instructional designers and people in our industry that she knows. Maggie really believes in my skills, my methods and in what I can accomplish. After all, I did learn from the best.