Student talking with professional
Story Student Success

Why You Need a Mentor Now

Michelle Baik

Don’t wait until you’re about to graduate to build relationships with alumni, professors, staff, and even peers who can help guide your professional development.

Student talking with professional

Networking events are a great opportunity to find a mentor to help guide your professional development. Photo courtesy of CSU Channel Islands

​​​​ College to Career Stories

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​A great mentor can come from almost anywhere. It may be that you connect with a professor or staff member, or that you have a lot in common with an alumnus/alumna of your campus. Or it may be someone who's working in the industry you want to be in who can provide invaluable guidance. But it could also be that a peer helps guide you in your career development. Whatever form it takes, mentors are critical to professional success.

​We talked to Eileen C. Buecher, executive director of Career Services at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and James Tarbox, Ph.D., executive director of Career Services at San Diego State, to ask them to share their insights about the value of mentors and how to find one, especially for students who are making the transition from campus to a career.​​

Q: Why is finding a mentor important while students are still in college?

Dr. James Tarbox: "Students need to learn to ask questions about their career development. A mentor provides a safe space for that. For sophomores, mentors help them manage the 'sophomore slump'—you may not have chosen a major and graduation looks far away, and you begin questioning a lot of your choices... A mentor helps you bridge the gap between the first year and third year. For juniors and seniors, a mentor is so important because you meet individuals who take interest in you, want you to be successful, and can connect you to a professional community."

Eileen C. Buecher: "Mentors help you shape your goals and vision for your lives. Mentors are professionals in the industry; they're a bridge to your future, professional development, and career readiness. They teach you the language and culture of specific industries or the real world in general."

Q: How many mentors should a student have?

Dr. Tarbox: "I recommend you start with just one so that you can ask quality questions."

Buecher: "It depends on the student and their learning style and personality. A mentor can guide you on specific skills, just as multiple professors teach you different subjects. But there is a commitment implied through a mentorship. A mentor can be a life-long relationship or a mentor can be someone who influences you for one phase of your life."

Q: What's the best way to go about finding a mentor?

Tarbox: "Campuses often have formal mentoring programs, such as SDSU's Aztec Mentor Program, which pairs juniors, seniors and graduate students with alumni. Faculty can also connect you to alumni by sharing their network and referring you to former students. Alumni are also on LinkedIn; you can work with faculty or the career center [on your campus] to contact them. Student organizations are another avenue where you can reach out and have ongoing relationships with faculty advisors, peers and professionals. Don't overlook anyone as a possible resource, and don't limit yourself to just your campus."

Buecher: "There are many opportunities to build relationships organically, whether through campus programs, networking events, career fairs, student organization events, and more. Show up as yourself and connect naturally with people. If you meet someone you're really interested in, ask questions and start a conversation. These professionals want to help you."

Q: How should students go about building a relationship with a mentor?

Tarbox: "The best way to start a mentorship is with your resume so that the mentor can get a snapshot of who you are. You can get valuable feedback that's industry-related or you can even be referred for an internship. If there's a reason you chose the mentor—industry, gender, ethnicity, first-generation college student—ask about that and find commonalities. Get advice on what you should be doing in your academic and professional development."

Buecher: "Do an informational interview and ask about their career—how they made decisions, about their industry experience, and what they've learned. Be proactive and make connections with people. If you have a peer mentor, ask questions about classes, professors, how to get involved on campus, and what's going on in the college that you should know about."

Q: Anything else you'd want students to know about finding and benefiting from a mentoring relationship?

Tarbox: "Many students in the CSU are very busy; they're trying to go to school and work to pay for school, and fitting anything else into their agenda is really challenging. The nice thing about mentorships is that you can make it as small or large as you want to. If you do it early on in your career, you'll be much more successful in finding internships and connecting to your campus community. It's a flexible and appropriate type of activity to add to your schedule that will help you succeed."

Buecher: "You have to be intentional about making connections with people and be comfortable with the process. The more exposure you get in college, the better you will be at finding mentors in the workplace after college. Then, you can recommit yourself as a young alum to become a mentor yourself to give back to future generations."​

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