If you're beginning to get into the human services field, you must establish a strong support network. Developing robust interpersonal connections with people in your field can help you make a name for yourself and get the advice you need to excel in your career field.
While mentoring can be the key to success in various industries, many human service professionals find it essential to stay in contact with an experienced professional who understands the ups and downs of the industry. Whether you're dealing with a challenging client or trying to get funding for a new public service program, working in human services requires a stick-to-it-iveness that isn't necessary in other professions.
If you're searching for an internship or working to make connections that will serve you after you graduate, it's wise to begin searching for a human services mentor before you start searching for human services jobs. Finding the right mentor can be easier said than done, and it's normal to feel frustrated if you have yet to find the right person in your field to support you and give you advice. Here, we'll look at everything you need to know about finding and connecting with a mentor who can support you in your human services education and career.
Define Your Industry
Before you begin your search for a mentor, it's best to know what career field you want to enter. If you're still early in your educational career, it can be tough to figure out where you'll land. Working with an experienced mentor in your industry can be a smart way to learn more about whether the human services field you have in mind is the right fit for you.
Deciding on a likely career path can be your first step in determining who you'd like to reach out to about potential mentorship. While many human services careers share certain tasks, being specific about the kind of mentorship that makes the most sense for your future will support your career in the long run. For example, if you're considering working as a probation officer, it's not going to be as helpful to work with a drug and alcohol counselor as a mentor as it would be to work with someone who works in the legal system day in and day out.
If you're struggling to decide what industry you're planning on entering, it's a good idea to at least come up with a general idea of the realm of human services you'd like to join. This sense of direction can help you determine whether it makes the most sense to search for a mentor in social work, legal services, counseling, or another field.
Research Field Leaders
Once you've determined the field or general career path that makes the most sense for your interests, it's time to learn more about the current leaders in your area. In addition to considering the field of study that makes the most sense for you, you'll also want to consider the career you'd like to have within that field. For example, someone who wants to become a substance abuse counselor who spends much of their time researching would benefit from a different type of mentor than someone interested in working directly with clients in a rehab setting.
Talking to your professors can be an intelligent way to learn more about the people in your field who could be helpful to you as a mentee. Your professors may also know about people in your field currently researching your areas of interest, helping to point you in the right direction as you search for a mentor.
Think About the Attributes You Want
Finding the right mentor isn't just about finding the person who has carved your ideal career path. You'll also need to consider the personal attributes that will make a mentor the right fit for you.
Depending on your needs, you should consider whether it makes more sense to find a mentor who will push you to persevere through tough times or if it's better for you to work with a mentor who can act as a sounding board as you find your footing within your career.
When talking to potential mentors, it's a good idea to let them know the attributes you're looking for in a mentor. If they're not the right fit for you, they'll likely be able to point you in the direction of a colleague who may be a better match. You may also want to search for someone with a similar background if you think you'd benefit from working with someone who has faced similar challenges.
Search for a Mentor at School or Work
If you're already studying or working in your field, looking at the people around you for potential mentors is smart. You've probably become familiar with the personalities and experiences of those around you, both at school and work. Let your colleagues know that you're on the hunt for someone who can support you in your professional journey.
If you're not finding the right mentor at work, it may be helpful to talk with classmates about their interests and see if they know of anyone who might meet your needs as a mentor. Networking is critical when finding the right mentor, and you mustn't be afraid to reach out to those around you to let them know what you're looking for.
Check out Professional Job Sites
Checking out professional networking sites like LinkedIn can be a fantastic way to connect with people in your field you might not encounter otherwise. While searching for a mentor who is geographically close to you can be convenient, the wide net you can cast with LinkedIn is also beneficial.
When looking for a mentor on professional job sites, you may want to start by seeking out people with your dream job at your company. Look at their career history and consider whether you might like to follow a similar path.
How to Connect
We get it – reaching out to your potential future mentor can be nerve-wracking. While it can be tempting to hit copy and paste and send the same message to many potential mentors, doing so is obvious– especially to those who have received many requests to mentor others. The more genuine and authentic you can be in your messaging, the better.
When you reach out to a potential mentor on LinkedIn, another job site, or in person, make sure that you've done your research. Compliment their experience, and let them know why you think a mentor-mentee relationship would also benefit their professional goals.
Remember, you're the primary beneficiary of a mentoring relationship–it's essential to thank your potential mentor for considering taking you on as a mentee, even if you're unsure whether they'd be a good fit.
Furthering Your Potential Mentor Network
Joining professional organizations in your field can be a great way to get to know people you might not otherwise encounter. While it can feel daunting to put yourself out there in a professional setting before you're officially working in the field, doing so can help you establish connections that will make it easier to create a seamless transition from your education to your first job.