Live & Learn
How to Find the Right Mentor during your Traineeship

Now that you’ve got a traineeship programme in the bag, you might be wondering how you can make the most out of this opportunity. Other than being proactive and open to new projects and experiences at work, there’s another option: finding a mentor.

A mentor is someone who has experience and knowledge in areas that you are interested in. He or she can help you set goals, fix problems, and provide insights that can help you make thoughtful choices for your career development.

This is because mentors have their own rich history of personal career development and they can draw on these experiences to help you get ahead. For example, they can help identify skills that you need to work on or even offer contacts within their networks. Just having someone who can provide an outside perspective can help you stay on track or figure out your career path.

Research has shown that people who have been mentored have more career and job satisfaction, more promotions and higher pay compared to non-mentored staff.

While most people would love to have a mentor, finding the right one isn’t as easy as it sounds. Successful businessmen and decorated executives may have the wit and the experience you want to tap into, but they may not necessarily be the best teachers. Plus, mentorships are personal—you’ll want a mentor you’re comfortable chatting with on a regular basis and whose values are aligned with yours.

If you’re looking for a mentor, here are a few steps you need to take:

Step 1: Decide on your goals and objectives

Your goals and objectives will determine the kind of mentor that will suits you. You need to ask yourself what you want to achieve professionally, both in the short-term (next three to twelve months) and long-term (next five to ten years).  

From there, you’ll be able to explore the options available to you and narrow down. Perhaps you’d like to learn from someone who is in a more senior role within your company to get an idea of career progression. Or you may think that your current industry is not a good fit and want to explore roles in other industries so you can make a switch in the future.

This will also help you determine what kind of mentorship you would like. If you’re set on your career path, then you’ll want to look for a traditional mentor—someone who has progressed two grades or positions ahead in the career path that you want. Ideally, this mentor should have the qualities or achievements you want for yourself, such as an esteemed reputation within the industry or simply the attitude for hard work and perseverance.

If you’re looking for something more exploratory, like insights on a different career or expertise in a specific skill, you can even seek out mentors outside of your company on a short-term basis.

Just remember, there are many types of mentorships out there. You can lear from seniors, peers, and even your work squad. Ultimately, a mentor can be anyone who can shed light on or influence the development of your career path.

Step 2: Search for potential mentors

Once you know what you’re looking for, you can begin your search for potential mentors.

The most obvious place to look is the company you’re currently training with. In Singapore, there are a number of companies that offer their own mentoring programmes. If your company is open to mentoring trainees, then this would be a good place to start. Talk to your supervisor and ask if there are opportunities available for your specific goals.

If your company doesn’t have a mentoring programme, there are other channels you can find potential mentors as well.  

Lean In Singapore is a non-profit organisation that aims to support women develop their professional careers. It was originally founded by Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating fficer (COO) of Facebook, and has since grown to over 800,000 women and men in over 150 countries. The Singapore community has over 1,700 members who are mostly full-time employees.

Universities and educational institutions also have alumni networks where you can be introduced to older graduates. The National University of Singapore (NUS) for example has its famed overseas college programme (NOC) where alumni form a tight-knit community of entrepreneurs.

Young NTUC LIT Virtual Mentorship Programme
Young NTUC has an upcoming LIT Virtual Mentorship 2.0 session, happening on 20 October where participants can be connected to two career guides in one evening and get their career questions answered.  After the session, they can also opt to be mentored for a period of two-months with the career guide of their choice. Check out the link to sign up!

And let’s not forget good ol’ LinkedIn! LinkedIn is a great way to find and connect with people who could be potential mentors. You can search for them by the company they work for or a specific job title that you’re interested in

If you’ve already got some connections on LinkedIn, the search results will show your mutual connections. You could reach out to these mutual connections and try to get an introduction to your potential mentor through them.

P.S. If you don’t already have a LinkedIn profile, it’s a good idea to set one up!

Step 3: Reach out to potential mentors

After you’ve compiled a shortlist of potential mentors, it’s time to reach out to them.

If you’re making use of your company’s mentoring programme, then your supervisor or advisor will likely be the one arranging your first meeting with your mentor. But if you’re taking the plunge and asking a mentor out yourself, then you’ll need to make the proper introductions.

And more often than not, the best way to do it is through email. (Especially now, during this pandemic.)

Start with a compelling subject line. If your subject line is too plain or vapid, there’s a good chance it’ll be buried under your potential mentor’s pile of emails. Or worse, dumped in their spam folder!

To write a compelling email, you need to make it concise, unique, and eye-catching. For example, you can say something like “Inspired by your work at XYZ” or “Referred to you by [mutual contact]”. The more personal it is, the better.

Within the email body, keep it casual and get straight to the point—”I’m interested in a mentorship and I believe I have a lot to learn from you”. It would be even better if you can reference any of his or her former mentees, if any, as well as why you chose that specific mentor. Maybe you were inspired by their work at XYZ, or you love their work ethic.

Afterwards, you can even schedule a Zoom meeting to chat, keeping in mind your potential mentor’s time and preferred mode of communication channel(s). Your potential mentor is probably really busy, and you need to respect their boundaries.

How to determine whether someone is the right fit

Now that all the introductions have been made and you’ve had the chance to speak with your potential mentors, all that’s left is to see whether any of your options would be a good fit for you.

A good mentor is someone who:

●    Is open and friendly, and easy for you to get along with
●    Is passionate about their industry, role, or whatever they do
●    Is willing to take the time out to chat with you regularly
●    Is able to give you honest and direct feedback
●    Is interested in your personal growth

Keep in mind that your mentor should be someone whose values align with yours, otherwise you’ll only be adding to your internal conflicts.

If you had a choice between getting a mentor that’s a bad fit and not getting any mentor at all, you should choose the latter. Negative monitoring experience can do more harm than good, and may even result in lasting physical and psychological effects.

Just because a mentor is willing doesn’t mean you have to do it! Like we said earlier, finding the right mentor is hard. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t find one off the bat, it all takes time.  

Source: Unsplash

Tips for an effective mentoring relationship

When you’ve sealed the deal, it doesn’t stop there. Every relationship requires some effort to ensure that it’s successful. Here are some tips to make sure that both you and your mentor have a good experience:

Set some expectations and guidelines

Be sure to discuss what you’re both willing to commit to and agree on the arrangement.

For example, you could ask them:
●    How much time they have available and when
●    Whether they prefer regular meetings or would rather chat as and when the need arises
●    How they would prefer to communicate (e.g. call, video call, in-person)  

Prepare some questions or topics before each meeting

Your mentor is likely a busy person and their time is precious! Have some discussion points ready before each meeting so that there is some direction.

If you find that you have a meeting scheduled but don’t have much to discuss, it’s okay to ask your mentor to postpone the meeting to a more appropriate time.

Get to know each other better

You don’t have to shy away from discussing personal topics. You’re both human beings with personal lives, so it’s good to share what is going on in your lives besides work.

However, be careful that it doesn’t become a therapy session where you tell your mentor about all of your personal issues — that’s not what they’re there for.

It’s not a one-way relationship

Don’t forget that you can provide value to your mentor too. As a young person, you could have fresh perspectives and innovative ideas. Even better if you have a skills set that could be useful for one of your mentor’s projects and you can offer to help.    

It’s great to have a mentor, but it’s not absolutely necessary

A mentor is a great resource for your ongoing career journey. However, if you don’t want to commit to an ongoing relationship right now, that’s okay too. You can still reach out to people who inspire you and have a one-off chat.

Mentors can also be found through podcasts, books, YouTube videos, or online forums. They’re not substitutes for a personal relationship where you can get tailored advice, but they’re still a good way to learn more about your career options.

Finally, don’t forget that you can learn from your peers too! In fact, they will better understand the struggles you’re going through because they’re in the same boat.

If you’d like to meet fellow trainees, come join the Young NTUC SGUnited Traineeship network. It’s a great place for you to network, share experiences and get access to resources to help you in your traineeship journey.

You can join our free Facebook group and Telegram channel for regular updates about the latest career fairs, job opportunities and traineeships.