Since the GDST’s alumnae mentoring programme was established seven years ago, more than 800 alumnae have taken part. Successes include alumnae who have gone on to set up their own businesses thanks to their GDST mentor, others who have achieved long-term career – and life – goals, and those who have stayed in touch as friends.
We talked to one of our recent mentoring pairs about what the process has brought them.
What expectations did you have of the mentoring programme?
Eliza: I thought it was going to be quite formal, with lots of forms we’d have to fill in about my SMART goals and my career ambitions. I thought it would be with someone much older, I had something quite corporate and official in my mind, like a series of job interviews.
Lily: This is my first official mentoring post, so I had braced myself to switch on my super-professional/formal head and started mining for brilliant nuggets of wisdom to share. The pressure was on.
What actually happened?
Eliza: I met Lily at a bar the first time, and since then we’ve done a tour of central London’s best Korean restaurants. At our first meeting we talked formally about my goals, but now we tend to catch up about all things life and work. We email if ever one of us (but mostly me) needs advice or has an update to share. The great thing is you can make of it what you like, and shape the relationship how you want it to be.
Lily: It was far more relaxed, and very much a two-way thing. We had, and have, great conversations, celebrating the good times and navigating the harder ones. It helps that we’re both very open people, work in the same industry, but in different departments – career context makes a good baseline.
What were the outcomes – expected and unexpected?
Eliza: It has been a hugely positive experience (for me, at least, fingers crossed for Lily too!). I’ve moved jobs twice during the time Lily has been my mentor, and one of the outcomes has definitely been being more confident in going for what I want. Having a cheerleader who backs you is amazing. As Lily is also in the same industry as I am, she has been able to give me really relevant and helpful advice, like how to structure a presentation for an interview. Something more unexpected has been the genuine friendship that’s developed.
Lily: Our conversations go beyond career progression now. Though it’s fundamental to our meetings, we always divert – our catch-ups have a fantastic work-life balance.
What did you get from it?
Eliza: It’s like having a professional best friend. I get advice, encouragement, guidance, fun.
Lily New perspectives, shared experiences and a lot of Korean food. On a personal level, I recognised the tips and tricks of the trade I’ve picked up. It was great to gain perspective and reflect on my own career. It’s made me bolder. It’s also incredibly rewarding to see someone with so much ambition and ability thrive. To hear how Eliza approached certain situations, and that she was happy to share them with me, confirmed the complexities of the working world. For want of a less dramatic word, it was grounding.
Would you do it again?
Eliza: Yes, definitely! I think I’d feel a bit like I was cheating on Lily if I got another mentor, but I would love to be a mentor myself in future.
Lily: Yes. Definitely. I hope Eliza and I continue our catch-ups, and I’d happily be paired with a second mentee.
How important is the personality fit?
Eliza: It’s really important. Our partnership is so successful because we just click as people and get on like a house on fire. I think if that wasn’t true, it’d fail pretty quickly.
Lily: My instinct is to say personality is key, but if mentor/mentee aren’t aligned, suggestions might be made that the mentee might not have thought of – not because of experience, but because of attitude. And sometimes a left-field view can really help. That said, mentoring isn’t about dragging someone in your ‘right’ direction, it’s about listening and helping them figure out what’s right. But really, if you start by outlining each other’s expectations and both commit, you’ll be good regardless. Knowing what you know now, could you describe what you’d look for in a mentor?
And/or what you’d hope to find in a mentee?
Eliza: I’d want someone down to earth, fun, creative and honest as a mentor. I think in my original application I probably said I wanted a CEO, but actually, having someone who is super successful but not too much older than me has been great and exactly right for me.
Lily: A great mentee is someone who’s open; who’ll share and listen. If they have an idea of how and where they want their career to go, then cool, but it’s not the be-all. I’d hope they were willing to self-motivate and put in the work they need to reach their version of success.