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Work Zone: Mentor can see clearly to help in job search
Monday, July 20, 2009
By Ann Belser, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Daniel Marsula/Post-Gazette

Most people think of a mentor as someone who helps them in their early 20s, guiding them toward a path that will help their careers.

Then that career takes off, cruises along at altitude on autopilot, and the mentor is a memory, or someone who -- now a friend -- asks for advice as much as giving it. (Right, Barb?)

But what about when that career crashes? When you're cruising along through the fog and a mountain of a recession gets in the way too late to veer past it?

Maybe it's time, again, to call on a mentor -- maybe the mentor you had in your 20s or maybe someone different this time.

A mentor needs to be someone whom you can turn to, someone you can trust to review your resume. That mentor also needs to be someone who will tell you that your shoes are inappropriate and, yes, your butt looks big in that skirt.

Beth N. Carvin, president of Nobscot Corp., a Honolulu-based human resources firm, said a mentor is someone who can step in and give you a lift.

A mentor does not need to be just one person; sometimes it is good to have two or three people to help with the different tasks of job-hunting.

For instance, take interviewing skills. Maybe it's worth turning to an old boss or someone in the Human Resources Department of a previous employer (probably not your last company, however, if you had a bad breakup).

That person, who should be well-versed in interviewing candidates, can help work on your skills because no matter how competent you may be, it doesn't matter if you come off looking like a dolt.

Another mentor, maybe a former co-worker or someone from a college alumni group, can help the job search, guiding development of a job-hunting plan with daily and weekly to-do lists.

That also would be the person to listen to -- someone to whom you can vent frustrations about job hunting, and the person who can reassure you that just because you didn't get the job does not mean you aren't qualified.

A third mentor would be the person who can look at your job-hunting package: resume; work samples, if that is appropriate; cover letters, and tell you if they hold up.

He might be someone found through an industry association or a university alumni mentoring program. Ms. Carvin said people also could approach someone they once heard speak and ask if he or she would be willing to help.

The goal is to find someone who can take an honest look at what you have and where you can go. "If you're working, your mentor will help you with your career choices," she said. The process also works for the unemployed or underemployed.

"Maybe you're in one type of career, and maybe those skills can be applied to something else," she said. That's where a mentor can help make an honest assessment.

When you find someone whom you hope to recruit as a mentor, explain why you are choosing him and why you think he can help you. Also, if it is someone you don't know well, tell her you are seeking only a limited amount of her time and ask, very specifically, if she will act as a mentor for you.

"Expect to receive some rejections," Ms. Carvin said. "Have a long list of possible people. Keep going until you find a great mentor.

"If nine people say 'no, thanks,' you are getting closer to someone saying 'yes.'"

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