Where is my next step? What do I want to do with my life?
Those are tough questions, overwhelming ones that can seem insurmountable to new members of the workforce and established professionals alike. Those are the questions I get excited about.
Early on as a mentor, I realized that mentoring is about so much more than sharing personal experiences. What I noticed was that what mentees often needed help with was identifying their strengths, their differentiation and their value in the workplace.
By nature, I am not a process person. Admittedly, I do not like lists, and I prefer to see things from different perspectives and dig around a bit. But I have had to develop this process side of me for my business life. With these tools, I am now in a position to help others bring things into focus.
That's when I turn to SWOT — Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threats — analysis, a process used by companies to assess their business. I bring this model down to the individual level, and it has proven to be a valuable mentoring tool.
Using the SWOT talking points, I develop questions that encourage my mentees to put thought into identifying their value, passions and points of differentiation.
Strength: What are you known for? What do people say about you?
Help your mentee dig deeper and concentrate on how she does what she does as opposed to what she does. For example, when one mentee said she was a hard worker (a common response), we dug deeper to determine that she was known for her resourcefulness and ability to build alliances. As a result, my mentee was able to accomplish things that others could not, saving her department time and money. Being resourceful and able to build relationships, therefore, demonstrated something of value to her boss.
Weakness: What gets you stuck? What do you default to when you are under stress? What do you hate to do in your job?
Rather than asking what weaknesses your mentee has, try to uncover the information in new ways. Eliciting fresh responses will help your mentee open the door to new ways of coping, managing and addressing perceived weaknesses. It's all about ...
Opportunity: How can you take a weakness and turn it into a positive?
Encourage your mentee to join professional and social groups outside the workplace to acquire new skills in a safe environment. I identified my lack of penchant for processing and lists as a weakness, for example, and sought out an opportunity to serve on a committee spearheaded by individuals who were more process-oriented than me. I learned by osmosis.
Threat: What factors can you change?
A threat is something your mentee cannot change. Talk about these obstacles with your mentee in terms of what she can change. For example, she can't change people, but she can change her responses to certain people and situations. Keep the focus there.
I have walked through this process with my mentees both verbally and, depending on the nature of the mentee, with work sheets (I have been known to give homework!), and what we uncover is a wealth of fresh information that can be put to practical use.
With this new self-assessment, one can begin to craft a personal vision statement and from there create a resume, develop an elevator pitch and devise an answer to the age-old "tell me about yourself" inquiry that stands out and really demonstrates passion and differentiation.
I truly believe in a long-term approach to career building, and my personal goal as a mentor is to help my mentees learn strategies and develop resources that they can use from now until the end of time, so whenever they are faced with questions regarding their next step or what they want to do with their lives, they are as excited to tackle the possibilities as I am.