Myth-Busting: Mentors & Networking
The following was excerpted from my guest blog posts on “Engineering in Style”, a blog driven by two female friends who are engineers and striving, with their blog, to change the perception of females in technology-related careers. Even though I’m not an engineer, they asked me to pull on my professional experiences in the past 18 months at SAP to bust some myths surrounding mentors and networking, two “hot topics” Millennials talk about frequently.To read my other two posts, or to check out the website, please visit: Engineering In Style
One of the best things a young woman can do for her career is find a “mentor”. With that being said, I’d like to bust four popular myths that I’ve experienced so far (especially with regards to being a young woman in tech):
1.) I need to participate in a regimented mentor/mentee program that my company organizes: I am not a big fan of these, mostly because the matching processes – no matter how many metrics they take into account – are inorganic. Find someone you connect with, can be yourself around, and feel comfortable asking a wide variety of questions, not someone who is “assigned” to you.
2.) If I’m a woman, my mentor must be a female: This depends. I have both a female mentor and a male mentor because it enables me to get advice from two different positions in the company as well as two different genders. That being said, you don’t just need one mentor – you can have several mentors that you go to with specific issues because of their expertise. And look outside of your department; such co-workers can often offer a refreshing outlook.
3.) I should only talk about work with my mentor: I won’t go into the personal topics I’ve talked about with my mentor (and she’s shared with me), but personal life plays a much larger part in your professional life than you can imagine. It can affect whether you move for a job domestically (or internationally), how you deal with challenges that arise, and basically everything that affects your daily life (e.g. if you’re a mom who needs to drop her kids off at school before you can go into work). That’s why you need to be so comfortable with your mentor!
4.) What can my mentor learn from me? Our sessions should be him/her talking and me listening: Another reason you should be comfortable with your mentor! I’m lucky because some of my strengths (e.g. social media savvy) are exactly what my mentor is looking to improve upon. I think because we do this “reverse mentoring”, our relationship is stronger, because it isn’t so one-way.
“Networking” is quite the word no matter what industry you work in today, and it can be pretty hard to navigate. Here is “myth-busting” four popular beliefs about networking:
1.) I need to go to organized events*, either internally with my company or externally, in order to do networking: I strongly believe that the best networking is done when the title “networking” isn’t involved and there isn’t that pressure. Networking should be fun! It can be as simple as meeting up with a friend who is out with coworkers and introducing yourself – you don’t need to look within your company or even your industry in order to find people who will help your career, either immediately or in the future.
2.) Yeah, we exchanged cards, but I have nothing to say to them, so I shouldn’t follow up: This is what building your network is all about! Ninety percent (if not more) of the people you meet are not going to be people you need to immediately utilize in your network. In this case, still follow-up with them: an e-mail saying how nice it was to meet them, a reference to the conversation you had, and indicating that you’d like to keep in touch in the future is a simple way to put them in your network arsenal.
3.) By fluke accident, I go the contact information of someone very senior in my company, but I don’t know what to say to them: Talk about what makes you unique! While volunteering one Saturday, I found myself painting a small bathroom with Bill McDermott. I decided I could do what the majority of people do when they talk to him (thank him profusely for the opportunity to work at SAP, pitch an idea to him, laugh at all his jokes…) or I could make myself stand out. Knowing he had a high-school age son, I asked how his son was doing with AP classes, test taking, and college searching, explaining that I had two siblings in high school going through a similar stressful time. It had three impacts: I was able to talk to him without being nervous, he greeted me by name the next time he saw me, and, when I eventually DID ask him to make a connection from his staff to an interested investor in design thinking via e-mail a week later, he immediately and personally responded. Business is done by people, and people relate to people, so the best thing you can do is be your unique human self!
4.) I should only give out my business card in specific instances: Even when I go out and all I’m bringing is my phone and a credit card, I still have business cards somewhere on my person. Put them in every purse, every wallet, and ALWAYS give them out – the person you give it to may not be “useful” to you, but someone in their network might!
So don’t be intimidated by “networking”: it’s as simple as meeting up with any group of people and talking about a range of topics that may or may not include what you do in your professional life. Have fun!
*That being said, there are some organized events that I believe are done very well; for example, I’m in an organization that does a “progressive luncheon” where everyone starts at one table for the first course, moves to a different group for the main course, and finishes up at another group for dessert. Everyone has two minutes to introduce himself or herself and answer a serious question (e.g. “What are the challenges in your career?”) as well as a fun one (e.g. “What’s your favorite holiday tradition?”). We pass out business cards at each table before every woman starts talking, and I often take notes (as well as noting the date and event where I met them) on the business cards as everyone introduces themselves!