How (and Why) to Start Mentoring

As the newest members of the workforce embark on their careers, try these methods to contribute to their development. And odds are, you’ll gain something from the relationship, too.

By Marissa Barnett

The rites of summer are vacations, barbecues, and pool days. But it’s also a time when college students and recent graduates head to the office to begin full-time employment.

In addition to the usual new-job transition time and office operations lessons, what these young employees often need is an experienced mentor to help guide their career, says Steven Sterin, BBA ’95, MPA ’95 and something of a mentorship advocate. Mentorships are beneficial for the employee and the company, easing the transition and keeping new hires happy and invested for the long haul, he says.

Sterin, senior vice president and chief financial officer at the global technology firm Celanese, says that in the early days of his career, the words of one mentor had a dramatic influence on him, and it has now become his mission to be a resource for the next generation.

“During a particularly challenging and stressful time, I was questioning my own capabilities, and one of my mentors told me something I will never forget,” Sterin says. “He told me that I had to define what success in my life and career looks like. Without that, I didn’t have a compass and judged myself based on what others thought. This totally reshaped my worldview and priorities. It reenergized me to rise above,” he says.

But mentorship isn’t just about giving advice. So as the newest members of the workforce embark on their careers, Sterin suggests any or all of these methods to contribute to their development. And odds are, you’ll gain something from the relationship, too.

“A mentor’s job isn’t to solve their mentee’s problems; it’s to help them develop their capacity to solve it themselves.”
Steven Sterin

1. Take Someone to Lunch

A mentor relationship requires quality time, which can be difficult to find in the office. Take an hour to get to know your mentee and get a better understanding of their goals and background. “This belief [in the power of mentorship] began when I saw senior leaders spending valuable time with 20-something new graduates,” Sterin says. “These executives shared the professional, as well as personal, experiences that helped them reach senior positions. They helped us determine our strengths and gave us constructive criticism in a supportive manner.”

2. Invite Students to Participate in Case Studies

Mentoring doesn’t have to be one-to-one, says Sterin. His company developed real-world case studies for UT students. He and his team work with students to understand the cases and the real-world applications needed to solve them. “We’re not telling these students what to do,” he says. “Instead we’re providing them with a richer learning experience to help them build their skills and strengths.”

3. Offer to Guest Lecture

“Our real-world, real-time experience can help develop stronger, more prepared Longhorn men and women for success in the workforce.” Sterin says. “There is a clear opportunity to contribute by being active, supporting alumni, sharing your expertise in the classroom and looking for opportunities to average up the student experience.”

4. Provide an Opportunity for Problem Solving

“A mentor’s job isn’t to solve their mentee’s problems; it’s to help them develop their capacity to solve it themselves,” Sterin says. “When I asked a mentor a question or had a challenge, we discussed how I could approach the situation. It was never, ‘This is what you need to do.’ Instead my mentors reflected on their past experiences and shared what they learned—both good and bad. This helped me apply their experience and wisdom to my challenges. With a mentor’s experience and different perspectives, mentees can improve their own problem-solving skills and resolve issues themselves.”

Sterin acknowledges that mentoring requires time and energy, but argues that strong relationships in the office are crucial to retaining talented employees. “Many things influence the decision to stay or leave, but I now believe the strongest reason a person stays or leaves a company is because of relationships with the people there.”

Do you have any memorable words of wisdom from a mentor that shaped your career? If you’re just starting at a job, what resources do you think will help you succeed?