These tips are useful for all one-off mentoring, advice, informational interview or knowledge sharing sessions, whether they are have been facilitated via ask-an-alum or not.
You can think of ask-an-alum meetings as a way for mentees to gather information and expand their network of contacts. For example, information they may need to choose or refine a career path, learn how to break in and find out if they have what it takes to succeed. It's the process of spending time with someone at a more advanced level in their career in a highly focused conversation that provides them with key information needed to launch or boost your career or professional development.
Weak ties’ (see origins of this theory in this 1973 paper) are fundamental to our career and holistic development, and Ask-an-Alum connections may help you expand your weak link network and bring new energy to both mentor and mentee.
Ask-an-Alum can also be a trial for a new one-on-one mentoring relationship; if mentor and mentee wish to establish a longer-term mentoring relationship you made find the guidance on one-on-one mentoring useful.
Tips for Mentors
- Respect your mentees time commitment and be prepared. For example, you may wish to make sure that you understand what the mentee is asking for in advance of the session and plan a couple of questions to help elicit information and insight from your mentee.
- Keep an eye on the time and help draw the conversation to a close approximately 5 minutes before you are due to end. If you’d like to stay in touch or talk again now is the time to make those arrangements.
- Send on any links or contacts that you have promised to send.
- If you need to cancel a meeting, please do so in a professional and courteous manner.
[The rest of these tips are for Mentees as they must take responsibility for the interaction, however you may also find some of the below tips and hints useful].
Tips for Mentees
Remember that it is you as the mentee who is in the driving seat. Once you have initiated contact and arranged a meeting you must ensure that you are proactive and prepared for the conversation. Respect your mentors time commitment by identifying, planning and preparing for discussion in advance.
Preparing for the meeting
- Possible to do by phone but use video where possible. As its impossible to zone out or multitask when someone is watching you, and video will make the conversation more meaningful. Close any distracting tabs, especially social media, and messaging apps, and put your phone on silent.
- Video meetings can be intimidating. They can be one of the most intense and intimate forms of communication. But this means that they are much more substantive conversations.
- Have a clear start and end time – be respectful of you and your guests time. 30-60 minutes is enough.
- Have an actual coffee or water to nurse during your meeting. It relaxes the environment and opens for more meaningful connections. Just holding a hot beverage can make use feel happier and come off as nicer (See Yale University research)
- Before you start try and do some research on the person you’ll be meeting, look at the alumni website, and/or social media channels to try and learn a bit about what they do to try and find common ground. This will help when developing talking points.
- Update your online profile (your alumni network website profile and/or LinkedIn)
- Prepare for awkwardness. Let’s be honest there will be some technical glitches and hiccups, and that’s okay. Instead of panicking go in knowing there will be some awkward moments and know its OK to laugh it off
- Be prepared to talk about yourself a little. Rehearse your introduction, practice it out loud and in front of the screen. Get a friend in an online chat and practice with them.
- Dress appropriately, just because you can spend all day in your pjs doesn’t mean you should. It helps get you in a professional mindset even if the other person can’t see you
- Be on timeIf you need to cancel a meeting do so in a professional and courteous manner
Video call tips
- Angle the camera so it captures your face and upper body and have blurring background if that is an option.
- Mimic eye contact and move the other person’s video as close to your camera as possible.
- Don’t sit too close to your camera as it can be intimidating for the other person. Prepare your positioning ahead of time.
- Find a quiet place, you don’t want to be in a position where background noise becomes a distraction.
- Do a test run, make sure your microphone is at the right level and you’re not sitting too close to the screen
- During the call you can make it clear you are engaged and listening by nodding, leaning forward and generally showing some movement in your facial expression. Unlike in real life a vacant expression can quickly and embarrassingly be mistaken for a frozen screen
During the call
- Start with a casual conversation, a vital step towards breaking through anxieties many of us are feeling.
- Go in with a few prepared questions to avoid awkward silences. 2 or 3 should be enough, you want the other person to have the opportunity to speak. They should be open-ended rather than questions with a yes/no answer, to help elicit information and insight from your online mentor. Don't be afraid to ask them to explain any jargon or acronyms that they use.
- Use icebreakers – quick questions to help get the conversation started and learn something about each other, i.e.
- What was a favourite moment of studying at IDS
- What was your first job?
- Approch the session with an open-mind, obtain another perspective and be responsive to suggestions and constructive criticism
- Don’t be afraid to take control of the conversation. Don’t make the conversation about you, put the spotlight on them. Listen to what they say and ask follow-up questions
- Keep an eye on the time and draw the conversation to a close approximately 5 minutes before you are due to end. If you’d like to stay in touch or talk again now is the time to make those arrangements.
After the call
- Make sure you deliver on any promises.
- Always send an email thanking the person for their time and reiterating a few things you learned, along with a gentle reminder of any links or contacts that they promised to send.
- Tell them how they can connect with you and encourage them to stay in touch. Acknowledge that you respect their time and are appreciative of them sharing their knowledge. Keep it simple but thoughtful and genuine.
- Check in from time-to-time. As you would with anyone in your network, check-in and see how they are doing and about developments in your own life
Ask-an-Alum: A practical guide for online mentors
Ask-an-Alum: How to find an online mentor