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Definition of Mentorship: What Is a Mentor and Do You Need One?

Wednesday | September 18, 2019 | by Yetunde Oshinkale


Yetunde Oshinkale is a WES Ambassador who immigrated to the United States from Nigeria. She is now a teaching assistant at Capella University.

She received her current position thanks to guidance from a professional mentor who understood her goals. In this blog, she shares some of the advice she learned about how to choose a mentor and what to look for in a successful mentorship.

Read about her experience below. Then, find out if a mentorship is right for your journey as a newcomer to the United States.

Mentorships are now an indispensable part of work culture in the United States.

Identifying strong mentors in your field is a good way to set yourself up for significant career transitions. It’s important to working productively with them to achieve a set of goals. Many organizations offer formal programs so that more junior employees can benefit from formal mentorships with more seasoned professionals in their department, company, or industry.

This article will help you understand:

  • The definition of mentorship
  • Why mentors are valuable
  • If you should personally seek a mentor
  • What to look for in a mentor
  • How to make the most of your mentorship

What Is the Definition of Mentorship?

A mentorship is a relationship between two people where the individual with more experience, knowledge, and connections is able to pass along what they have learned to a more junior individual within a certain field. The more senior individual is the mentor, and the more junior individual is the mentee.

The mentor benefits because they are able to lead the future generation in an area they care about and ensure that best practices are passed along; meanwhile, the mentee benefits because they have proven that they are ready to take the next step in their career and can receive the extra help needed to make that advancement.

Do You Need a Mentor?

A mentor can help you advance within your field and connect you with opportunities that you might not have otherwise had access to. They do this by sharing their knowledge, helping you identify opportunities in your path, and potentially opening doors for you when the time comes.

Almost every great achiever in history has claimed that they had a great mentor at some point during their rise to excellence.

Mentorship is a valuable tool for turning one’s vision into reality. Mentors are expected to guide and advise their mentees, helping them build a successful career or gain a solid footing within a certain organization. Typically, a mentor has one mentee at a time and can focus on shaping their trajectory.

You should find a mentor who has a title similar to one you would like to have one day, or who once worked in the position you have now, so that you will have a common understanding of roles and responsibilities, as well as future possibilities.

Skilled immigrants and international students who want to quickly advance in their career in a new country should take advantage of mentorships. Gaining knowledge from someone who has successfully navigated a similar experience can help you accelerate your growth. Someone who will help you make the right decisions at the right time could influence the rest of your life.

My Story: How a Mentor Changed My Life

I was fortunate to find a mentor who provided meaningful direction and guidance during my time as an international student. I already had a master’s degree from Olabisi Onabanjo University, and my mentor helped me decide that it would be beneficial to get my PhD in the United States.

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But a mentorship is not just about being told what to do or getting advice about one difficult decision. For example, once I had secured my admission to the university of my choice, my mentor advised me to maintain a GPA of 3.50-4.00. They told me that this would be important if I wanted to be eligible for a federal work-study position, which would help me find work after graduation.

All of this was important information that I needed in order to plan several steps ahead in my future—and my mentor had the experience and foresight to help steer me in the right direction. Not only that, but knowing where I needed to go in the future and that I had someone helping me get there was highly motivational.

Ultimately, I got a federal work-study position as a teaching assistant at the Harold Abel School of Psychology at Capella University. This part-time employment gave me important real-world experience that was directly related to my field of study (educational psychology with a focus in child and adolescent development). It also taught me more about the labor market in the United States. Lastly, it allowed me to earn a little extra money to help pay back my federal loans.

I was very grateful that my mentor helped me embrace these opportunities. She believed that I could achieve these steps to success!

How to Choose a Good Mentor

Many offices have their own formal systems to identify mentors for their employees and to facilitate a strong mentoring relationship. However, if you are building a mentorship on your own, there are several places you might go to seek a mentor.

You can start by joining an informal professional network (for example, finding a group with similar interests and experiences through Facebook or Meetup). Or, you can join a formal professional association (which might involve paying fees and attending regulated events).

If you attended college, you can likely reach out to your school’s alumni network to see if former graduates have had success in your field. Then, reach out to see if they are willing to help you improve your skills and seek new opportunities.

Regardless of where you find them, the most important thing is to choose the right person. Do you know what to look for?

From my experience, a good mentor must possess the following characteristics:

  • Extensive experience in a related or relevant field
  • Similar educational background
  • Has overcome relatable challenges
  • Friendly and genuine personality
  • Credible and trustworthy character
  • Must not feel threatened by empowering others
  • Favorably disposed to flexible mentoring styles
  • Open to learning from the mentee

Overall, you will know what feels right when you have met a good match. You must feel comfortable with your mentor. You should feel like they have a lot to offer you that is directly related to your field of work. If this is not true within the first few times you meet, it is perfectly acceptable to end the mentorship. Remember: It’s not a failure to move on and seek someone new.

You may want to request a meetup or interview before formally accepting a mentorship arrangement. Here is an important note, though: Keep in mind that both of you will be getting to know one another during this meetup, and both of you will be accepting your roles—not just you accepting them. Prepare to answer questions about your background and expectations, and try to make a good impression.

How to Make Your Mentorship Successful

Mentoring requires a lot of effort and preparation. It takes time, patience, and commitment.

But so does growing in your career. Success always requires determination and perseverance. So don’t give up!

Never be afraid to seek out a mentorship—even if you aren’t sure how to get started, or your first attempts don’t work out the way that you might have hoped.

Remember, you will only get out of this what you put into it. Your mentor can only take you part of the way; the other half of this requires effort from the mentee.

As the mentee, you must have a clear objective that is specific and measurable. It is not your mentor’s job to help you discover what you are hoping to gain from the experience. Then, you must be willing and eager to learn. If you are closed off, you will not be able to grow through the experience. Your mentor will not be able to solve that on their own.

Mentorship is a two-way process. But if it works the way that it is meant to, both the mentor and the mentee will benefit from the experience.

One day, you might use this experience to mentor someone who is in the same position you are in now. It is important to pass along the lessons you have learned to others, as your mentor has with you. That is how you will continue to benefit and grow from this important relationship—for the rest of your life.

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Robin Cardozo on Immigration, Mentorship, Volunteering, and Diversity in Canada

Yetunde Oshinkale, a WES Ambassador, is pursuing her doctoral degree in educational psychology in the U.S.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of World Education Services (WES).