Whether it’s through my day job working in communications and public relations at FCB Global or my post as an adjunct professor at New York University, I’m constantly impressed by the ambitious young people I encounter – people with diverse backgrounds who are pursuing careers in varied fields. They inspire me and fuel my own aspirations.
I’m proud to be a mentor for many incredibly talented individuals seeking professional guidance. While no one mentor-mentee relationship is the same, I will say that I am extremely selective when choosing mentees. I focus on offering my time to individuals who are ambitious and willing to work hard to make me proud.
So, how do I identify these people? And, once I do, how do they continue to foster a positive mentor-mentee relationship? Over the years, I’ve distilled a handful of traits of superb mentees. Here they are.
I handpick most of my mentees, and rarely do I take on a mentee who simply asks. A mentee should prove him or herself before a beneficial relationship is formed. One of my mentees, DuJuan Chowning, was completing an internship when I joined the communications team at CBS in 2010. He simply asked me to have lunch with him. DuJuan impressed me at lunch by sharing his long-term career vision. And, before asking for anything in return, he shared his own insights. Our relationship taught me new techniques and strategies to excel in my day-to-day role and career. As a result, I was eager to offer my assistance. Today, DuJuan is at Facebook, and it’s an honor to watch him soar.
One of my mentees, Ja’han Jones, was an NBC Page (which is, in itself, an impressive accomplishment because it’s such a competitive program). Ja’han is a young Black man, and he sat outside of my office during one of his early assignments with another group. One day, I looked at him and said, “Why don’t I know who you are?” At this point, I didn’t even know his name. At first, Ja’han looked at me confused, but after a second, he knew exactly what I meant. I told him to come see me in my office, so we could touch base. The rest is history. Ja’han calls, texts, and emails me all the time, and he’s now an editor at HuffPost. If I had never reached out to him, we never would have connected and it would have been a shame. It’s crucial to introduce yourself and make your presence known. One of my mentors taught me early on that it’s my job for people to know who I am, not the other way around. Now, I echo the same advice to all of my mentees.
I truly believe that all relationships should be mutually beneficial. Every relationship, including the one you have with your mentor, should be “give” (be a blessing) and “take” (accept a blessing). When I offer to help to someone, I give them my all. A mentee should not only contact me when they need something. They should contact me to say hello or comment on industry news that impacts my company or my role. In fact, one of my mentees recommended me for my current graduate teaching role at NYU.
Everyone is different when it comes to discussing finances, but one of my mentors taught me early in my career that you must discuss salary, especially as a person of color. Beyond trusted websites, it’s the most accurate way of knowing that you’re receiving what you deserve. Compensation should be a topic discussed among mentors and mentees. I wouldn’t expect my mentees to ask me how much I make, but I do give them ballpark ideas of appropriate salary, based on position. If I invest myself heavily in someone, I want him or her to be comfortable speaking to me about all facets of his or her career.
A mentoring relationship doesn’t start and stop with the mentor. I place my mentees in contact with successful individuals in the career that they’re striving to work in. After they meet and impress that person, they should thank them and ask if there’s anyone else that person thinks they should meet. And if they’ve impressed them (which, hopefully, I’ve prepared them to do), that person always has someone else to connect them to. There should be a continuous ripple effect of my mentees building their network: Meeting, thanking, connecting.
Images courtesy of The Jopwell Collection