Why Mentoring Matters

Throughout my uni and working years, I was given the opportunity to both be a mentor and a protégé. The whole experience of being on both sides of the relationship allowed me to see what each side looks for from the exchange. To be a mentee is a rewarding experience, but to mentor others is quite a challenge! Here are the 5Ws on why having a mentor matters for people at the beginning of their career or is still studying! 

What is a mentor?

A mentor is someone who advises a younger or less experienced person. The relationship can be a formal or an informal one depending on how both parties define the relationship at the beginning. A mentor is usually someone whom you can look up to, trust and challenge preconceived ideas you may have about certain jobs. The mentee, on the other hand, is the other party in the relationship who benefits from the mentoring. 

Who can be my mentor?
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A mentor is typically someone who is older than you, who is ahead of you in the career you want to pursue, or someone you can work well with and is generous with their knowledge. Think of them as someone who is ahead of you on the mountain you plan to climb, but they are willing to climb down the mountain and show you the ropes. They are available to meet up with you regularly and invest their time in nurturing your progress in your career. They need to be your role model, your support, and your ally through any bumpy spots when starting your career.

You can have multiple mentors for different purposes. You may want a mentor who teaches you new technical skills, another one for developing your character, and another one to help you progress in your career. Really leverage your mentor's unique strengths and experiences.

Why should I have a mentor?

It creates new opportunities. Your mentor can network you with the right people. They may have colleagues or bosses who have the knowledge and information on things you would like to know. You may be able to learn from more than one person. Be proactive and always have a positive attitude toward the people you meet or get introduced to. A poor attitude will reflect badly on your mentor as well. So always be your best!

You get insights into the industry. Your mentor can provide you with insights into the industry and about the career you want to pursue. I once wanted to pursue a career in academia - I am still considering it! Beside advising me on how to get to where I wanted to be, my mentor also told me what his work days were like, the politics at work, the sweet and bitter moments of the job and most importantly what inspired him to keep him in the career he was in. It was truly valuable for me to reflect on that particular career and not just take the job title at face value.

Having a mentor enables you to ask the questions which you may not feel comfortable asking your employer. 

Get motivated and inspired at moments when you feel stuck on your journey. There is always that moment of doubt in your life about where you are heading with your studies, internships, and career. A mentor can be a sounding board for your ideas or a cheerleader to keep you going.

It looks good on your resume. If you include your formal mentoring program in your resume, it shows commitment to your personal development to prospective employers. However, I would not include any informal mentoring arrangement on your resume.

Why should I mentor others as well?

I found it to be a privilege to mentor others. I had a moment of flashback where I realised what I did not know and how far I have gone in my own journey. In a way, it boosted my self-esteem to know how much I have progressed but it also reminded me of where I was two years ago and the naive questions I used to ask. I learn further lessons as I impart my knowledge to others.

There is a great sense of achievement as you see your mentees progress. You bring a positive impact to their lives or may even transform someone’s life. Imagine giving someone advice on something you have had to learn through years of experience. Often the mentors could feel the joy of altruism and selflessness. 

You will experience a sense of validation when you suddenly see people look up to you for advice and opinions.  These mentees look up to you and ask you questions that make you reflect on yourselves and what you are doing or where you are heading.

Where can I find a mentor?

You can find a mentor through a formal program at your university, through networking events, or at work. Build a relationship with your mentor early. Don't straight away ask someone on your first encounter to mentor you (unless you are very comfortable in doing so!). Go home and research the person and see what projects they are working on or their work history. Know what you are interested in learning from the person then approach them.

Practice caution when having a mentor who is also your boss. A boss-mentor will not step down from their role as your boss as they mentors you. They still needs to provide advice that is aligned with the organisation’s objectives. There may also be a conflict of interest between your mentors’ double roles. For example, your boss-mentor may be comfortable providing you advice on what to do at networking events but they may refuse to advise you on what to write on your job application for your promotion! Find the balance and know your limit when asking for advice from your boss-mentor. 

When should I start having a mentor?
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It is never too soon to build a relationship with your mentor, so be sure to start early. Having a mentor while still studying, or when you simply need good advice with your career options, is a good indicator that you probably need a mentor. There is no formula on when you need to start having a mentor. You know yourself better than anyone else, so you are probably the best judge of whether you need a mentor or not!

When NOT to have a mentor? 

In saying that you need a mentor, there may be times when having a mentor is a bad idea. The mentee needs to invest time and effort into the relationship. If you cannot do this, you are probably not ready to engage in a mentor-mentee relationship! Your mentor is not paid and it is often the mentee who needs to initiate the relationship and be more proactive in driving it; requesting to meet up, preparing questions prior to the meeting, and making the meeting easy and convenient for the mentor. If you expect your mentor to spoon-feed you what you need to know you are probably not ready to have a mentor.

Remember that there are two parties to this relationship and the benefit goes both ways. Search actively for mentor or mentoring opportunities!


Jesslyn Lan is the resident Learning, Teaching and Asssement Specialist here at HEX! Hailing from Indonesia and now based in Melbourne, Australia, Jesslyn is passionate about music, all things education, and can often be found nerding out at libraries and bookshops.She has travelled to 19 countries (want to get to 50), and her ultimate dream is to become a children’s book author and to build an inclusive school that breaks the mould of education!

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