Career Readiness

Make the Best of Your Mentoring Relationship, Featuring College Now CLE


Most people know mentoring is beneficial but could use guidance on how to make the best of these relationships. Read the blog below featuring UHM foundation partner Madeline Rife to learn more about ways to make the best of your mentorship.

Written by Celetre' Jones

A mentorship relationship can improve an individual’s personal and professional experiences through a journey of companionship. The purpose of the relationship is to partner an experienced professional, with one of less experience, to help provide the two with emotional support, role modeling, guidance, and motivation. A mentor can assist a mentee with exploring careers, networking, setting goals and identifying resources. A mentor can also provide the mentee with advice on areas of their expertise. While a good mentorship relationship can be of tremendous value, many mentees do not know how to make the most of this opportunity. I recently sat down with Madeline Rife, Director of the Mentoring Program at nonprofit partner College Now Greater Cleveland to learn a bit more about their unique programs and advice they have for making the most out of mentoring relationships.

For those not familiar, College Now is a nonprofit focused on post-secondary success for individuals from low-income backgrounds, through financial scholarships, career exploration, support services and more. However, the added component that truly lends to their students’ success is that every scholarship recipient is paired with a working professional in their community to serve as their mentor and guide them through their college career. At Union Home Mortgage, 7-10 employee partners annually serve as mentors through their programs. The results? 94% of their scholarship recipients are retained from freshman to sophomore year, over the average of 53% of other students from low-income backgrounds.

But what goes into a “good” mentoring relationship? What are things you should focus on in being a great mentor to those around you?

Step 1: Define goals and specific needs.
Mentors and mentees should get out a pen and paper and write goals for the proposed relationship. The list should include long and short-term goals. Try to make sure the goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

In Rife’s opinion, College Now’s mentoring program differs from others, “we are also unique in the mentor world in that we work with college age students. A lot of the time you do not see programs like our’s that service students in that age group that are looking more specifically at personal development in addition to professional development. What sets us apart are two different things. One we are specifically focused on college graduation. We look specifically at helping students navigate that process. That’s what the mentors provide – they are all college graduates and College now has a very robust curriculum training support system around breaking down the hidden curriculum of college.”

This is something important to consider for all mentoring relationships.

Step 2: Make intentional investments of your time and energy.

Being a mentor should not be a passive role. You should not only hear from your mentee when they reach out to you. Be open and transparent with your knowledge and take advantage of your own opportunities that can give your mentee a chance to become a better professional and individual. But it’s also important to be understanding and flexible of the phase of life your mentee is undergoing.

College Now Mentoring Program Director, Rife has hope for the college experience to be more supportive of students’ process in exploring their own career journey. Rife said, “They have a lot of responsibility. I wish there was more support for young people that are undertaking school and our culture accepted that as a phase of life and supported that better.”

Step 3: Remember your role is to offer advice, and sometimes it may not always be taken.

An important thing to understand about mentorship is that the mentor can't live the mentee’s life for them. A mentor’s job is to provide advice and open the mentee’s perspective. Most importantly encourage the mentee to think differently--not make decisions for them. Mentees must make it a habit to evaluate and listen to the mentor’s advice. A mentor can only go so far in helping with decision-making, but it’s important to also remember the perspective of your mentee and their experiences.

Empathy is a quality that our partner, College Now looks for in its mentors. This helps a mentor’s ability to give mentees appropriate advice while considering mentees relevant circumstances. Rife said, “We really want to make sure in our process that at the end of the day they are empathetic. Our training process is set up to get them in that mindset to really try to understand what the student is experiencing, what their goals are and putting yourself in their shoes.”

Rife said, “It really is important to know the client and know the people you are serving. Obviously, you can’t ever 100 percent get it but to take the time to really try and have those experiences, while understanding how the people you are serving are experiencing the systems and are navigating them. Sometimes you look at things and question how people are making choices and what they are choosing but when you really understand what their realities are then you can better evaluate how do you change the system. So, these choices do not have to be made.”

Step 4: Create an accountability process for your mentorship relationship.
After meeting for a simple conversation or two, initiate the idea of creating a formal process for the relationship. You can do this by establishing how often you two should meet and create an outline of how you two want to achieve your goals. Consider creating a one-page document outlining what you will accomplish during the duration of the relationship. It can be used as a reference if someone feels the relationship is moving off track or goals are not being met in the ideal time frame.

Step 5: Continue to follow-up with each other and be gracious with time given.
For both mentors and mentees, follow-up with arranging future interactions while it’s on your mind. For any mentees reading this, thank-you notes, or texts should be sent out after every meeting. This simply helps show gratitude to one another for efforts in the relationship. It’s important to also remember, once your “formal” mentorship arrangement ends to continue to inquire about experiences and opportunities from your past mentor. Do not be passive when it comes to learning and your future goals.

The Union Home Mortgage Foundation supports mentoring programs and has proved this by backing College Now Cleveland and its mentoring program since 2018. According to Rife, Union Home Mortgage staff has shown their commitment to the non-profit’s cause and has been a good support network. Rife said, “Having that partnership with Union Home Mortgage has been really helpful because we know there is a place where we can go and there is a good support network to get the word out about the opportunity to work with us on that social capital side.”

If you are interested in learning more about College Now and its mentoring program. Please visit their site to learn more, volunteer and apply.