A friend recently graduated with a double degree in Chemistry and Education from a prestigious university. Given his GPA and family connections, I thought he’d have no trouble finding a job—or internship—at a pharmaceutical company.
Instead, he’s about to leave for the Middle East after accepting an entry level position as a marketing assistant in an unknown company.
Not only is he under employed, he’s under employed in a foreign country with no friends or family, for a job he’s not interested in.
More Jobs, Steeper Competition
Recent news say graduates of 2015 and 2016 are entering a better job market. But it doesn’t feel that way for many of them, certainly not to my friend.
I’m guessing it’s because some of the unemployed from the past years are still trying to bounce back. Another possible reason is the new batch of graduates gave employers more choices, so they’re not in a hurry to give jobs to those without experience. This is happening right now in the tech industry, where design and programming jobs are awarded to those who have more experience instead of a fresh graduate.
Climbing Corporate Mount Everest without a Guide
The Stockton Polling Institute interviewed 4,741 college students in 2014, and found out that only 50% of students interviewed used their school’s student services office for career counseling. Of that 50%, only 17% visited the career counselor’s office for advice in finding a job, while only 24% asked for help with their resume.
Despite the growing number of resources available in and out of campus, many students go through the job search alone.
One possible reason is, “students get the sense that stuffy academic types don’t know how the business world works. They sit in their ivory towers out of touch with reality,” says Natalie Severt, Career Expert at UptoWork.com
As a new and unemployed—or underemployed—graduate, it’s impossible to climb the corporate ladder alone. What you learned from school wasn’t enough.
Without a mentor, you may not have insight on handling job interviews or what busy recruiters think about your resume.
Benefits the Unemployed Enjoy from having a Mentor
A mentor with strong connections can notify you of jobs not posted in employment portals.
Credible mentors are good for name dropping in your resume. If your mentor is well-known in your industry, including a short testimonial from him on your cover letter or LinkedIn profile will boost your credibility.
Gain professional experience you can’t get in a typical corporate setting. Mentoring is a give and take relationship, so you’re expected to help your mentor in some of his or her projects.
Some of the projects your mentor gives you may be way out of your league, so it’s a good way to learn new skills like programming and analytics to beef up your resume work history or side projects section.
How can I Find a Mentor if I’m Unemployed?
Good question. “Employed professionals have relatively easier access to mentors because their employer provides one in the form of their boss, corporate mentoring programs, and in-house trainers”, says Michelle Riklan, Certified Professional Resume Writer and Career Coach.
You have no access to these opportunities when you’re out of a job. But plenty of other options are available.
Local Industry Group
Ask their chapter president or any officer for recommendations. These people usually have contacts willing to mentor young professionals in the field.
- The Association of Women in International Trade Mentoring Program
- American Institute of CPAs Mentoring Program
- Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses Mentoring Program
Non-Profit and Government Funded Groups
- The Center for Nonprofit Learning
- Inspire Motivate and Engage Mentoring Program
- Latter Day Saints Search Engine (they don’t provide mentoring, but they connect you to those who do)
Programs for Specific Sectors
- National College Student Mentoring Program
- American Psychological Association of Graduate Students
- Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity’s (APAGS-CSOGD) LGBT Graduate Student Mentoring Program
- Canada Infonet Mentoring for new immigrants
- Skills for Change program for new immigrants
Pro Tip: Don’t choose a mentor that’s already busy with his own work, business and other activities. If your chosen mentor has a full-time job, a side business, and a family, you’ll just get in the way of his own plans.
A mentor that’s unable to juggle his own schedule and meet with you occasionally may not a good fit, however impressive their accomplishments are.
What to Look for in a Mentor
Find someone who’s already employed in your target field. They have connections with decision makers who are probably looking for talent like you. Plus, they have first-hand experience in the industry you’re trying to penetrate, so they know what recruiters ask when reviewing job applications.
1. Find a Teacher
Look for a mentor who enjoys sharing what they know. Stay away from people afraid of sharing contacts and skills because they’re afraid you might get ahead of them. Those people aren’t real mentors; they might just be using you to do their work.
2. A Good Listener
Good mentors listen just as much as they talk, if not more. Asking follow-up questions, and letting you share your ideas instead of imposing their own, are two signs of a great would-be mentor.
3. A Straight Talker
Feedback hurts me more than people care to admit, but you should work on improving your appetite for it. After all, feedback is the breakfast of champions in the corporate and business world.
Look for a mentor that won’t sugarcoat your skills—or lack thereof on any given subject. Their feedback is your clue to improving how you handle yourself in the job search process.
Don’t be offended if your mentor says you talk too much, have a monotone voice, or your resume is lacking in details. HR managers and employers don’t have the time to tell you these things, so they’ll just throw your resume in the trash.
If you didn’t get the job you wanted, it’s better to learn why not early on, and get a chance to correct course, instead of wondering what the hell happened to all the applications you sent.
4. A Mentor with a Network
It takes a lifetime to build a good network with connections to people working in different positions in your industry.
Unfortunately, time is something you don’t have. If you’re a fresh graduate, you may be pressured to make payment on your student loans. If you’ve already graduated, it’s even worse because now you’ve got rent and utility bills to pay on top of everything else.
“Knowing the right people is key to getting a job fast”, says Severt. That’s why you need a mentor with a strong network.
“Employers often prefer referral candidates over no-names. If you can’t get a direct referral, try name dropping”, she continues.
Bonus: Find someone who has gone through unemployment, so they can understand the struggle you’re going through.
How to Approach Potential Mentors
This is probably the scariest part of the process, but you’ll get better at it with practice.
1. Use Email as Your Last Option
Build up the courage to ask your mentor for a quick coffee or lunch. If they’re too busy, ask for a short 10 to 15 minute call, use email only as a last resort to communicate.
Normally, email is the preferred communication method of busy and successful people. But if you’re the one sending an email, it could take days to get a response. Plus, it’s hard to get a back and forth conversation going in this medium, so use it only after your first meeting.
2. Make it Clear You’re Asking for Guidance, Not a Tutor
Successful people are busy, they don’t have the patience to do your work for you so make that clear upfront. You don’t want them to think that mentoring you will lead to more work.
Tell your would-be mentor that you’re only interested in learning from their experience – to ask questions not easily answered with common sense or a thorough Google search.
3. Low Pressure and Specific Terms of Engagement
Don’t ask, “Will you mentor me?” right off the bat. It’s like asking George R.R Martin to put you as a character in GoT after an autograph signing. You’d be more successful if you got to know each other by sharing your professional experiences and finding a common ground.
Tell your potential mentor that you admire what they’ve accomplished. If you know them personally, or have seen their work, compliment them on it.
Then ask one specific question about your job search. Don’t ask if there’s a vacancy in their company as that may come off as a bit desperate. Ask for tips about your job search, such as how he got started, what recruiters look for in a cover letter, or what their typical workday is like.
Get one question answered, apply what they taught you and go from there. Don’t ask for regular phone calls and meetings just yet.
Show Your Results
Say your new mentor gave you advice about sending thank you notes after an interview. You did it and got a favorable response from the interviewer. What now?
Share this win with your mentor. It’s a stroke to their ego, and it shows you’re a man (or woman) of action. Just repeat this cycle of asking intelligent questions and thanking them for advice. Before you know it, you have a mentor.