Mentorship is hard.
Actually, mentorship is so hard that people tell you to expect to fail. (Apparently, 90% of corporate mentorship programs do fail.) Not only do you have to find someone who has relevant experience and skills, you have to actually like them as a person. On top of that, they have to actually want to cultivate a relationship with you. How often do you run across that kind of opportunity? Not often.
And yet, mentorship is known to be a critical piece of career satisfaction and the best way to jumpstart your personal growth. The need for mentorship is even more pronounced for women who tend to downplay their successes and shy away from the largest opportunities in a technology sector dominated by men. In fact, those who would benefit most from mentorship are the ones least likely to seek it out.
So, while the benefits of it are obvious, we shy away from mentorship. It’s time-consuming. It’s self-centered. It’s awkward. It’s hard.
Luckily for me, Next Jump recognizes the value of mentorship, and we’re focusing our energy on making it both easy and rewarding. Last year, I was accepted into Project Padawan, one of our first initiatives for internal mentorship. I was taught how to “give and take” as a mentee and paired up with Nate Gandert, a SVP of Software Engineering at Next Jump who I’ve always looked up to. Thanks to the support of Project Padawan, I was able to build a relationship with Nate that changed my outlook and career. It was hard – but it was also successful.
The support system built into Project Padawan helped me address many issues and fears surrounding mentorship. Most importantly, it helped me tackle:
1) The search process. How do you find and pick the right mentor? Padawan has a dual application process that forced me to think about who at Next Jump I wanted to learn from and what my goals were. Likewise, Nate saw a list of applicants and actually picked me from his list! Whenever I’m feeling insecure about the relationship, I’m reminded that it wasn’t one sided - Nate picked me, too.
2) Getting over myself and getting started. For me, the anxiety really started once I was paired with Nate. What was I going to say? When were we going to meet? Thankfully, Padawan has a recommended set of meetings and I was given plenty of self evaluations and conversation starters. I put all the meetings on the calendar immediately – there’s no turning back once you accept an Outlook event! The week before each meeting I pored over the conversation starters until I felt I was ready to ace our meeting.
3) Learning to face the truth. Padawan runs in cycles, so Nate and I started at the same time as five other mentee/mentor pairs. I met with my fellow mentees regularly, and over lunch we confessed our successes and failures. (Our mentors also met for peer support and guidance.) Among the mentees, some of us had forgotten to follow up between sessions and swore to do better; others had a hard time communicating across offices and exchanged tips on phone calls versus video chats. Leaning on and learning from my fellow mentees was invaluable.
Of course, the program isn’t perfect – the problems surrounding mentorship will never be fully solved. We’ve already worked on the next iteration of Project Padawan, which will feature a concrete project for mentors and mentees to work on together in addition to their scheduled meetings. Past mentees will also be serving as a secondary group of peer advisors, so hopefully future Next Jumpers be able to learn from my mistakes. First tidbits of advice: don’t feel weird about taking notes and don’t underestimate the power of a heartfelt, hand-written thank you note! In the end, I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity to grow that Padawan provided – mainlining knowledge from someone I respect has changed me for the better. Yes, it was hard, but Next Jump made it as easy as it could have been. I can only hope that everyone has the same opportunity to learn and grow, and that one day I can be the kind of mentor to someone that Nate has been to me.