Wouldn't you love to have a friend, career coach, confidante, inspirational source and devil's
advocate all rolled into one? A mentor can be all of these things and more, ultimately acting as your personal career compass. But what should you look for in mentors, and how do you go about establishing these key relationships?
For starters, a good mentor should:
Of course, a mentor does not have to be Asian American to be effective. However, many Asian American professionals report they feel a natural connection with someone who understands what it is like to be Asian American in the workplace.
Yet while it is comforting to connect with high-level Asian American role models at your company, it's helpful to get good advice from a wide range of people. And of course you can have more than one mentor, so keep an open mind when reaching out to friends and colleagues.
Having the right mentors in your corner means you always have someone to turn to when you're unsure about your next move or simply need a champion. And when you've reached a seemingly dead end in your career, a mentor may well be the person who helps you get back on track.
The Inspiration for Pursuing a Dream
While a student at Carnegie Mellon University, George Gee was the DJ for a radio show specializing in big band music. It was through this experience that he was able to meet and interview William “Count” Basie. When Gee shared his aspiration of being a big band leader, Basie responded by saying, “It's possible, if you really want it!”
“He was the first person to encourage me to get into this field,” says Gee. Over time, Gee developed a personal relationship with him.
“At times, I think it helped that I was different from the other big band leaders,” Gee says. “I was a novelty. However, if there were any barriers to success that I faced early in my career, it would have to be my age. Most people who do what I do tend to be from an older generation, and when I was starting out as a young 20-something band leader, people looked at me a little differently.”
When he looks back on his career and the inspiration Basie gave him, Gee is reminded every day of how powerful a mentor can be.
The Key to Landing Your Next Job
A Filipino woman who works in the publishing industry talks about how her Chinese American mentor helped her land her current job. “I couldn't have done it without my mentor,” she says. “Since this was my first major career change, I really had no contacts in this industry. My mentor was my boss at my previous company, and we shared an excellent working relationship. She was close to the director of this new department that was starting up at my current firm, and with her recommendation, I was a shoo-in.”
This woman never needed to go through the normal HR channels and obtained the offer after just two rounds of meetings, an accomplishment that would have been impossible without her mentor's support.
As you venture out to find your own mentors, you should:
- Keep an open mind about who your ideal mentor might be. Look for Asian American role models in your company, but also consider having non-Asian American executives as your mentors.
- Ask your mentor for specific help when looking to make a career change.
- Be there when your mentor needs your help. Just because you may be at a more junior level, it doesn't mean you have nothing to offer in return.