Mentoring Begins with a Conversation

Steps in SeattleI attended a networking event last night to accompany a colleague, and while I prefer not to write in such a casual tone, I’ll allow myself because of what I leaned and how I learned it.

When I was actively seeking employment a few years back, I used to network aggressively.  I scheduled informational interviews, I set goals for how many people I would meet each week, and I made a point to speak with anyone who would take the time to respond to my emails and other online messages.  But when I started working full-time, all of that effort stopped because it felt unnecessary.  After all, I was gainfully employed.

So when a colleague of mine suggested attending last night’s event, I happily accepted, and reflected on those days when I felt like networking was the only way to find a job.  After all, you hear about the hidden job market often, and when I first began looking for work after graduation, entry-level HR postings were far and few between.  I attended last night’s event with the expectation that I would only meet a few people, and that I was truly just acting as a support for my colleague.  But you never know when someone will change your life through a simple conversation.

At the end of the night, my friend had left, but I took my time heading out.  I chatted with a few new faces, gathered my things, and stopped to thank the evening’s organizers.  As we were chatting, a woman casually came by to share her appreciation for the evening.  She apologized for interrupting our conversation, and asked me who I am and where I work.

I may be a bold writer, and a confident formal presenter, but I’m a shy person.  I started by saying “I just work in payroll.”  She immediately made me stop speaking, and said, “never say you’re just something.  Because whatever you’re doing is significant.  You meant to say, ‘I work in payroll’ because it shows that you have a specific skill set that you’re using.'”

I was shocked and moved.  For years I’ve been paired with mentors, and I’ve met hundreds of HR people at countless events.  This was the first time anyone had ever said something like that to me, and I’ll never forget it.  From that brief exchange, I learned that whatever your ambitions are, and whichever job you find yourself at this moment, your position is worth celebrating, period!  Appreciation is the key.

I honestly don’t know the woman’s name.  Our conversation was brief, and we did not exchange business cards.  It was simply a casual yet profound connection that we shared in that moment.

I mention this because I know lots of people who are intimidated by the concept of mentoring.  Many of those same people feel intimidated by the concept of networking.  But the magic of mentoring is that through a series of meetings and conversations, you can gain appreciation and development while connecting with a new professional ally.

The link between networking and mentoring is that it all begins with a conversation.  You don’t have to meet every person in the room to gain inspiration, or to find a job.  It could be that final moment you take to say ‘thank you’ to someone that sparks a completely eye-opening conversation with a stranger.

If that’s the kind of life-changing conversation that you can have with a total stranger, imagine the potential for learning with someone’s full attention, and who you can call ‘mentor’.

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