What exactly is a mentorship? Who’s a mentor? There is plenty of confusion and sometimes fear surrounding mentors and mentorships, especially as over the past year or so, communication has shifted heavily towards email and direct messaging. Waiting for responses that will contain an acceptance or rejection can feel like a fearful eternity, much like how watching lions hunt on National Geographic can be equally as long and fearful. Like a lion cub learning to pounce, be the next protegee that learns to lead the pack by discovering your new mentor.
Below is a list of some quick explanations and rapid-fire tips to help you navigate the world of mentors and mentorships and transform the scary image of a lion in the wild, to Simba singing Hakuna Matata.
They can be anyone. A mentor does not necessarily have to be a superior in your office or school or some unreachable CEO of a huge corporation. Building out is more efficient and rewarding than building up. It could be a coworker in a different production department or a friend that works for a graphic design company. They could also be a classmate who took a class you couldn’t because of scheduling conflicts, or someone who graduated a few years prior. Your mentor could even end up being some random artist you followed on Instagram because their work was just that good. Since mentors can be found anywhere, it is very important to talk to everyone! You never know who might turn into a great mentor and an even greater friend.
Regardless of who it is, here are some tips to know what to look for in a mentor, and how to establish a long-lasting relationship whether or not the mentorship comes to fruition.
Get to know the person. Personality is essential. A mentor should be someone who shares in your enthusiasm, even if the two of you have different creative visions. They should also be someone you want to work like and admire in some capacity. Do not abandon a conversation with someone because mentorship is no longer possible. You may talk to several people before finding a mentor, and these friendships that you develop along the way are more important than any mentorship or job.
Find something in common. Having a basic commonality is a phenomenal conversation starter and can limit some of the introductory awkwardness. One of the easiest ways to do this is to find an alum from your school or a teacher or student that is currently there with you. If you ever interacted with them during your time, it makes it easier to reach out and establish a strong relationship. It also helps to research the person prior to reaching out, regardless of how well you know them, by looking through their LinkedIn or taking a look through their portfolio. Many schools also have alumni programs and directories that you can look through and find someone who may be in the field you are hoping to enter beyond graduation.
Ask for help. Do you want to know how to use the program your coworker works on all day? Ask them! They may be more than willing to stay after work and help teach you how to use it. They could also give you access to the programs so you can learn on your own once your shift ends. Do the extra work when you can, and it will go a long way both within your field and beyond.
Now that we know who mentors are, let’s get into what mentorships entail. Mentorships are when a mentor provides guidance for someone who is shadowing their daily experiences, a mentee, for a certain amount of time. The purpose of a mentorship is to help provide advice, hands-on experience, and career support from someone who is already established in that particular field. These usually take place at a company, school, or other professional institution, and are many times set up through programs or fostered through connections and personal relationships. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, most mentorship programs and individual experiences have shifted to a virtual format, but they can and have been conducted in person as well.
Do not ask outright for a mentorship. Finding a mentorship, even through a program, can be a long and somewhat difficult process, and requires patience and a genuine desire to make connections and friendships. Making long-term relationships is more important than the mentorship itself, and the better connection you have with someone, the more likely they will be open to mentoring you.
That being said, it is perfectly okay to take the initiative and introduce the idea of mentorship when you feel the time is right. It may take a while before you feel comfortable asking about or for mentorship, and it may become apparent during your discussions that they are not open to taking on a mentee, but remember to trust the process. Everything will turn out as it should. This can all be taken into consideration once the mentorship begins.
Search your alumni pages and social media for mentorship opportunities. Women in Animation (@wia_animation) has applications for their fall mentorship program going live on August 19th, and there are many other Instagram and social media pages that can connect you with organizations that have mentorship programs (@riseupanimation, @latinxinanimation are two others). After you apply, the mentors themselves will look through and pick who they think will best fit in their particular ‘circle.’ A ‘circle’ is a mentor’s field of work, and to ensure that you apply to the one you’re most passionate about, you can only apply to one mentorship opportunity, so choose wisely and good luck!
SCORE is also a fantastic, free resource for finding virtual mentorships and workshops. Go to the Find a Mentor page, and learn about the remote, real-time mentorships available no matter where you are in the world. Utilizing SCORE is also a phenomenal way to support small and local businesses by ensuring that their information is easily accessible. The workshops run by smaller businesses also tend to be low-cost and allow people with an idea (like you!) to learn how to start their business, providing advice along the way. The possibilities are endless, so just click on the search bar and start looking!
I hope this brings some clarity to the mysterious world that is mentoring. Keep an eye out for my next article in this series, where I will be sharing tips and information regarding the tiger: recruiters!