Allison McWilliams: The strong will survive

Allison McWilliams is assistant vice president of mentoring and alumni personal and career development in the Office of Personal and Career Development.  She writes occasional articles for Inside WFU.  This is the second for the fall semester. In each, she shares observations and suggestions with faculty and staff from her professional experiences with students.

Allison McWilliams

Effective mentors help their mentees to explore and develop around three key outcomes: psychosocial, short-term career, or long-term career. Short-term career outcomes look like socialization to a new organization or role (i.e., how to make the transition from high school to college). Long-term career outcomes look like career planning and skill acquisition (i.e., identifying and selecting a major, pursuing internship and study abroad experience, pursuing post-college career choices or graduate school).

But it is the psychosocial outcomes that often get lost in the mix, and which are absolutely foundational to everything else that we do. This work is all about identity development, exploring and articulating values and beliefs, developing strengths and interests that align with those values and beliefs, and then using those tools to work on the short-term and long-term career goals. Indeed, doing the latter without the former just leads to frustration, disappointment, and disengagement.

How do effective mentors help their mentees with this work? It involves an ongoing, committed process of asking questions, providing constructive and objective feedback, pushing students out of their comfort zones, and helping them to make the connections between what they are doing and what they are learning.

  • Ask questions. Use open-ended questions to push for intentional learning. Questions like, “What did that experience teach you about your interests?”, or “What are you learning about what really matters to you?” create opportunities for reflection and conversation.
  • Provide feedback. As you work with your mentee, you will likely see some things in him or her that he or she cannot, or notice some experience gaps that need to be filled. It’s perfectly fine to point these out, while always remembering that the experience must be the mentee’s choice, not yours.
  • Some students come to college ready for an entirely different experience than high school, while others will seek the comfort and security of familiarity. Challenge your student to look for new experiences to explore, new subjects to study, new friend groups to engage, to diversify their experiences and abilities to reflect critically on strengths and interests.
  • Finally, learning is an iterative process. We try something, we learn from it, we try something else with new knowledge or information. Great mentors help their mentees to make these connections in intentional ways. Don’t miss the learning moments.