If someone asked me for tips on how to be successful in your career, one of my top answers would be “find a great mentor.” I would not be where I am today without the help of my mentors. Mentors help you navigate the waters of your career. Finding a great mentor is easier said than done. While some organizations offer mentorship programs, mentors are not necessarily formally assigned to you. Instead, they are people who became mentors once you developed a relationship with them. Most of my mentors were my supervisors.
When I was getting my master’s degree in the ‘90s, I was assigned to be a research assistant to a well-known and highly respected public relations professor. On my first day, he did not say, “Hi, I’m going to be your mentor.” Instead, it took time to develop that relationship. He encouraged me to get my Ph.D., and I made sure I stayed in contact with him. When I graduated, he would go out of his way to introduce me to people. Now, nearly 20 years later, he is still one of my mentors, and has been a positive influence on my career development.
A great mentor is someone who has time for you, and is interested in your growth. They are the ones you can turn to for advice and they want you to be successful. So what’s in it for them? Many mentors want to give back, and for some, it’s a way to build a legacy in the profession. Plus, many had great mentors themselves.
My advice for students is simple. Meet and talk to people. No one wears a sign around their neck that says, “Hi, I’m a mentor.” It may take time to find the right person, and most of the time, it happens organically. But you can help accelerate the process. Here are some tips:
- Schedule informational interviews
- Seek advice from those you admire in the profession
- Get to know your professors
- Contact your local PRSA Chapter
- Go above and beyond at your positions and internships
It will take work. Identify those people you have a rapport with and cultivate that relationship. Remember, their time is valuable so be considerate. Don’t overwhelm them. Thank them for their time and be gracious. But remember, the path you choose is ultimately up to you, not your mentor. You have to make your own decisions and, pay it forward. One day, when you meet someone new in the profession, take time to be a mentor to them. It will make a difference in their life.
Tina McCorkindale, Ph.D., APR, is the president and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations. She is serving as the PRSSA 2015–2017 National Faculty Adviser. Formerly, she was an associate professor of public relations at Appalachian State University and has taught at several universities, including California Polytechnic State University, Pomona, University of Vermont and Ramkhamhaeng University in Bangkok, Thailand. She has taught in West Virginia University’s graduate IMC program since 2009, and has nearly 10 years of experience working in corporate communication and as a senior research analyst. She lives in Seattle, Washington.