One of the most valuable services you can provide as a career services center is mentorship in their chosen fields of study and career advice about future occupations. Setting up a comprehensive system that makes it possible to mentor college students across the board may seem like a wishlist item that might never be fulfilled, but in reality, you can take positive steps to mentors all students if you expand your understanding of what a mentor is, what one can do and how you provide one.
Mentorship does not need to be the prototypical wise old man who instructs the mentee in every aspect of life while nodding sagely and stroking a long, white beard. As you prepare a program or platform to provide every student who wants a mentor to connect with one, expand your concept of what a mentor looks like and what one can provide.
As Lindsay Kolowich points out on HubSpot, a mentor/mentee relationship doesn’t have to last a lifetime: “Mentorship doesn’t have to be long-term. It can also be a one-off or short-term relationship, like when someone needs help working through a specific problem — such as a career transition or a problem with a coworker or manager.” Sometimes it just being there to answer a question that students may need to ask about a particular career or company they’re looking to learn more about. In addition, not every college student needs a mentor who is rich in experience and wisdom. Often, peer mentors can do the best possible job of mentoring students, since they’re close to them in age and experience.
When you’re setting up a process to provide a mentor to every student, cast your net wide. Seek out peer mentors who are a year or two ahead of your target students in the type of “big/little” relationship that many students are already familiar with from fraternities and sororities. Recent graduates are also valuable as potential mentors, since they have just faced their introduction to the job market. Keep a contact list of everyone who has used the services of your career center, and pursue them a year or two after graduation to match them with like-minded students approaching the end of college.
Professors are often already mentoring college students they’ve taught in classes. Contact them to formalize those relationships, to encourage them to start to prepare their students for the post-graduation job search, and to provide them with the support services they need to give professional career advice that’s up-to-date and relevant to their students.
Your school’s alumni organization may also feed you a ready supply of willing mentors. Don’t ask too much too quickly — remember, just allowing students to easily access someone who can answer their questions can make all the difference to a student. Being able to answer quick questions can fit more easily into an alum’s calendar than a long-term relationship.
If you truly want to expand your mentorship program to reach every student, set aside the idea of one-on-one, in-person meetings, and start to build a virtual mentoring program. Place limits on the time required, and make it clear what kinds of behaviors are and aren’t allowed so that none of your mentors fear being trolled or getting taken advantage of. Most potential mentors will be happy indeed to develop a virtual relationship online, and many of those relationships may develop into more traditional mentorship relationships later.
You may want to start your mentorship small and expand it to include every student on your campus. If so, consider starting with students who are the first in their families to attend college. These “first-generation” college students typically have little or no support in making the difficult transition from college to the career world. Their parents, although may be proud of their students, often have little idea of the challenges their children have faced and overcome, and they can provide little in the way of good advice for the job hunt. Match these first-generation students with mentors at networking events, workshops, and mock business lunches and interviews that expose them to this new world and give them the chance to ask questions about how they could prepare for the future.
As you recruit mentors of all types for your growing mentorship program — peer mentors, career mentors, professors, virtual mentors and the like — the key to success is making sure everyone involved understands what’s expected of them. Set clear boundaries on both sides of the relationship even before you make the introduction, and provide an end date for the initial relationship to allay any concerns ahead of time. Stay in touch regularly with your mentors to head off any awkward situations and to roll them over to the next group of students. With wise planning, you can expand your career services center’s mentorship program to include every student who wants the valuable guidance of a mentor.