Monday, January 8, 2007

Mentors: Always Ask For Advice and See Where it Leads

This last weekend was a balmy 62 degrees and sunny. I couldn't stay in the house and needed to get outside. So I drove up to Williams with the family, had a picnic lunch from Granzella's deli, and headed to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex ( My family was awed by the sight of hundreds of Snow geese and White Fronted Geese, several Shoveler Ducks, lots of coots and egrets, dozens of Great Blue Herons and many singing Red Wing Blackbirds. We also saw some birds we've never seen before, including a grouse that flew up in front of the car. It was a beautiful Sunday trip, and something that made me think about how I got there. I have one of my wine industry mentors to thank.

All the career advice books say to look for a mentor. The books advise how to find potential mentors, how to contact them, and then how to have them become your mentor. I think this is very good advice, and something anyone should do without giving it a second thought.

I've been fortunate to have had great mentoring experience. But I don't sit down with a mentor and say, "Okay, now that we're having our mentoring meeting, what is on the agenda?". I think that mentors can come from a wide variety of relationships and backgrounds.

My first mentor was my neighbor who traveled the world, was a scientist and loved to invite me over to her house. She taught me about microbiology, genetics, stained glass, different cultures and a myriad of other things. She also employed me to assist with managing her house and property. This job was the most important thing to me, because I always wanted to do a great job for her. The pay was a nice incentive, but the responsibility she gave me was even more important.

After moving away, another mentor was a woman I worked for as a temporary employee. She gave me career advice, showed me the ropes in the insurance sales/underwriting world, and more importantly, on how the work world worked. I often think about how I deal with an issue, and how Annette would have handled it.

Now, always choose your mentors wisely. Back in my IT staffing days, I had the privilege of working with a very articulate Harvard MBA computer programmer who was helping me break into the government IT project world. He was smart, had great advice, told me how to do things I had never done before, and always had a great story to illustrate a point. But when I went to put him on one of my first IT government projects and had to check his educational background, it came back empty. Upon asking him about it, he said it was due to his being in a Top Secret mission involving Noriega, and that after completing the mission, his education, military and work experience was erased to protect him and his family. This made me question his advice, his stories, and of course, who the heck he was. But I don't shy away from mentoring.

My current mentors include my husband, a wine writer, a professor, an employment lawyer, a salesperson and a winemaker. These people have great ideas, an understanding of how to approach situations and personal stories about what has worked and what has failed. I always ask them for advice and use their advice to better myself. Their insight helps keep me from working in a vacuum and allows me to move quicker on ideas.

As a job seeker, my advice to you is this:
1. Talk to experienced professionals in your industry of choice.
2. Digest their comments and glean what you can use.
3. Put those ideas to work.
4. Don't get injured by their criticisms, use them to improve.
5. Follow up with your mentors to let them know how things are going, what's working, what's not, and ask for any additional help or ideas.
6. Always take the opportunity to help others who need it. Mentors often have been proteges themselves, and know the power of experience.

Oh, and take time to look at the birds--always a nice escape. Thanks George!


Alfonso Cevola said...

Great post, folks need to hear more about this.Bravo!

Amy said...

Thanks Alfonso!