The Importance of Having a Mentor — And How to Make the Most of Yours

From Oprah to Van Gogh to Gandhi, all the high-flyers in history have had a trusted go-to throughout their careers. Oprah Winfrey, for example, attributes her success to a number of mentors—going right back to her 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Duncan, who taught her to “not be afraid of being smart”.

But mentors aren’t just for the rich and famous. Here at CareerFoundry, we are firm believers in the power of mentorshipand have seen first-hand how it can truly transform the learning experience.

When taking a CareerFoundry course, you find yourself in a very unique position. Each and every student is assigned a dedicated, expert mentor who will coach you one-on-one and answer all your most specific questions.

What’s the best thing about mentors? They’ve walked the path before you. They’ve made mistakes, learned from them and gone on to be hugely successful in their field. As a CareerFoundry student, you can be privy to this wisdom.

We won’t pretend that learning is all plain sailing, but your mentor will help you navigate the rocky patches. In fact, we’ve noticed that students who regularly seek feedback from their mentors tend to come out of the course with better results.

Here are just some of the ways your mentor can help:

  • A fresh pair of eyes: Your mentor can help you see things from a different perspectivecrucial to making progress!
  • Feel like giving up? Your mentor will provide encouragement and motivation when it’s most needed.
  • Expert knowledge: All of our mentors bring at least 5 years’ industry experience with them.
  • A sounding board: For ideas, questions, doubts or interview prepwhatever is on your mind!

So we know that mentors are greatbut how can we make the most of them?

Here are our top tips for building a positive relationship with your mentor.

Understand your mentor’s role

There tends to be some confusion surrounding the term “mentor”, so it helps to understand exactly what your mentor is there for.

First things first: your mentor is not your tutor. These are two very different roles, which is why CareerFoundry assigns you both. Your tutor provides you with course materials and technical knowledge, while your mentor can help you apply this to real-world situations.

“Technical issues should be resolved with tutor dialogues, and the more ambiguous states of affair dealt [with] in mentor calls.”
Muwuso Mkochi, User Interface Designer and CareerFoundry Mentor

A good mentor will prepare you for a career in the industry. They will help you take what you learn in class and confidently transfer it to the job market. Anything from interview prep to fine-tuning your resume, or keeping you grounded in moments of doubtthese are all jobs for your mentor.

Of course, each mentor is different. Chat to your mentor about how they view their role so you know what to expect from day one.

Jump straight in!

So, what’s the best thing you can do for your student-mentor relationship? Bite the bullet and dive right in!

We get it, it can be weirdespecially if you’ve never had a mentor before. But the sooner you get the ball rolling, the sooner you’ll start to reap the rewards.

We recommend having the initial call within the first two weeks of your course, or at least by the time you’ve completed the first achievement.

“I have seen that when students connect late in the game or do not connect with [their] mentor at all, it really shows in their work and they are more likely to become idle and even drop out.”
Dana Lynn, CareerFoundry Mentor

Mentorship is all about growth, so prepare for the first call by writing down your goals: what do you want to achieve from the course, and how can your mentor help you? It’s also important to be open about any doubts or hesitations you might have.

And remember: your mentor has done this before, so it won’t be as awkward as you think. Don’t be shy: schedule that call as soon as possible!

Find your rhythm

There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to student-mentor relationships, so find a rhythm that works for you.

Everyone progresses at their own pace and faces different challenges along the way. Fortunately, with a one-to-one mentor, you can easily tailor each session to your individual needs.

There are certain milestones throughout the course when it’s useful to touch base; after each achievement, for example, or just before a job interview. However, it’s also important to be flexible. If you are suddenly panicking about finding a job after the course, or having doubts about the whole thing, a chat with your mentor should get you back on track.

Your mentor is there to guide you, and turning to them at the right moments can make a huge difference.

“I try to get students to connect with a call before doing major things like user interviews and usability testing. I have learned that if they go through these activities without having mentor guidance, the results are not as rich as they could have been with discussion and planning beforehand.”
Dana Lynn, CareerFoundry Mentor

Play your part

As a mentee, it’s all too easy to sit back and let your mentor do the work. They’re the experts and that’s their job, right?

Wrong. It’s a two-way street, and you only get out what you put in. As much as your mentor is there to guide you, it’s essential to play an active role.

Don’t be a passive listener. Engage, discuss and ask questions. Plan ahead of each call and don’t be afraid to steer the conversation. Be willing to open up: the better your mentor understands your situation, the more they can help you.

“80% of the time I have found that student difficulties exist outside of our classroom and sit around issues of isolation, family/work/study balances and also a lot of anxiety based on whether or not they are headed down the right rabbit hole, are they actually a fit for the world of design?”

Muwuso Mkochi, User Interface Designer and CareerFoundry Mentor

It sounds obvious, but be open to receiving feedback and advice. Even if you feel like you’re perfectly on track, your mentor can offer a different perspectiveand open your eyes to certain blind spots.

Finally, don’t just listen to your mentor’s adviceact on it!

Make notes during your mentor calls and set aside ten minutes or so to reflect on them afterwards. Take your mentor’s experience and strategies and make them work for you: how can you adapt what they’ve shared and apply it to your own situation?

Ultimately, it’s your job to extract as much value as you can from your mentor sessions. Be it a CareerFoundry course, starting your own business or just trying to get ahead in your career; a mentor is an invaluable source of wisdom. With the right mindset, some careful preparation and an expert mentor, the sky’s the limit!

Ready to meet our mentors? Learn more here.

What is CareerFoundry?

CareerFoundry is an online school for people looking to switch to a rewarding career in tech. Select a program, get paired with an expert mentor and tutor, and become a job-ready designer, developer, or analyst from scratch, or your money back.

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