Dear Mentee Mike | May 15th, 2012

Hi. I’m Mike. Yesterday Amanda posted an article in which she talked about the experience of professional life for a young person just starting out in her career. Well, as of tomorrow Amanda has been working at crowdSPRING for one year (note to self: get cake for Amanda); for the first few months she was an unpaid marketing and PR intern but was ultimately promoted to the position of underpaid marketing and PR intern. She and I have worked closely together during this time and have gotten to know one another well, developing an appreciation for the other’s sense of humor and learning about each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Over the months, Amanda has gained lots of marketable skills, made huge strides in her professional development, and contributed to our efforts and our culture. And the filing has actually gotten better! This is the second of two blog posts reflecting on the mentor-mentee relationship and how both sides can gain insight and experience success.  

Dear Mentee,

First, let me thank you for the hours of effort you have given to our company in the past year; your work is truly appreciated as is your willingness to learn, to listen, and to contribute in any way you can. In your letter, you mentioned that you felt intimidated by my professional accomplishments; I do realize that Ross and I might be a little frightening, but that is the last thing we think about when interfacing with you and everyone else on the team in our day-to-day work. It is important for you to remember that, first and foremost, we have a business to run and we don’t have a great deal of time to consider whether we might be intimidating. But even if you are scared, it is critical in your professional life to be outwardly confident, unruffled, and self-assured; employers look for these qualities in their workers, and you need to develop the ability to conceal and self-doubt. Listen, we all have insecurities and we all secretly expect that we will eventually be found out, but my advice is that you deal with your own uncertainty and not let it become a vulnerability to you professionally.

You also mentioned in your letter that you are afraid of failing. Don’t be. Try things, experiment, let yourself take risks in your professional and personal lives. Yes sometimes you will fall flat, sometimes your efforts may backfire, and occasionally you will even meet with disaster, but more often than not your effort will pay off and the risk you took will be rewarded. Understand exactly what it is you are afraid of and then face it; as Master Yoda said, “Named must your fear be before banish it you can.” Remember, nobody here expects you to know everything, or to be capable of doing everything; we hired you because we thought you were bright and competent and that, most of all, you had the capacity to learn and grow. What we do expect from you is that you will be assertive, take chances, gain knowledge, and stretch your limits.

Your input and ideas are valued, but remember that not every meeting or every moment is the appropriate one to share these with your bosses. There is a time and place for everything and you have to be conscious of the fact that we typically have multiple balls in the air and might not have time to listen to your latest insight about how we can better run the business. In your professional life you will have some bosses who are open to your input and others who will resent it; one of the key skills you can develop professionally is the ability to gauge people – be a human barometer and learn to understand the moods and personalities of those around you. Keep in mind that context is key when offering your ideas and that those ideas are more likely to be accepted, or even tolerated, if you choose your moments wisely.

As a manager I have learned that criticizing one’s subordinates is something of an art; a good supervisor understands that sometimes you have to tear someone down another times you need to build them up. For better or worst, I probably am better at the build-up than the tear down part, but “sugary, self-esteem building euphemisms?” Seriously? I want you to feel good about your work here and about your role in the company, but just because I compliment your work it doesn’t mean that I am trying to be obsequious or ingratiating. The flip side to this coin belongs to you, however. Taking criticism and internalizing negative feedback is as much an art as giving it. My best advice is that when your boss is going on about your latest failure or your shortcomings as a member of the human race, you train yourself to stand there, nod your head, and bite your tongue. And, most importantly, listen closely and don’t let your own biases get in the way of taking that criticism to heart, learning from it, and growing into a better professional.

As for having you  listen in on everything that I do, well we’ll see. Again, this is about context and sometimes it will be appropriate to have you involved and at other times it will make sense that you be a fly on the wall, but sometimes it is simply not the time or place to have you there and you have to respect that. Make yourself available, but don’t expect that you will get to sit in on the meetings with investors, or that I will invite you to listen in on every call. Trust that I have a strategy for you and that I will know best when you should be included and when it is simply not suitable. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ask to be included, but expect that often times the answer will be no.

Finally, your schedule. Yes, I know you have classes to attend, and yes I know that you have projects due, but do your best to be as available as you can. If you’ve got extra hours, hang out here; if you have homework to do, do it at your desk; and if you have other professional obligations try to schedule them around the commitment you have made here. If you are intent on being involved, on learning, on growing professionally then you have to be around here to do those things. Try hard to just be around as much as you can and the probability of accomplishing these goals will increase correspondingly.

So thanks again for everything you’ve contributed in the last year: your time, your energy, your intelligence, your humor, and your ideas. We appreciate what you bring to our company and look forward to watching your career take flight!

Sincerely,

Your Mentor

Photo: 20th Century Fox

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