How Mentoring Helps Jump Start Second Careers

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Xerox-MOYAs the Communications Manager for Mentor Scout, one of my responsibilities is participating on the judging panel for the annual Mentor of the Year award recipient. During this time, my inbox is flooded with nominations written by mentees, who give accolades and praise to their mentors. What I’ve learned from this process is that mentorships can truly be life-changing events, in which both the mentors and mentees benefit. I’ve also seen how much a mentorship can help mentees start and thrive in their second careers.
I’d like to share one memorable mentoring success story – one that highlights how much a mentor can help someone starting over. This is Jennifer’s story.

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After working for nearly 15 years at the Eastman Kodak Company, holding various positions in R&D, Manufacturing, Operations Leadership, and Environmental Health and Safety, Jennifer Allen joined Xerox in 2006. She is a Chemical Engineer by training, but wanted to do more on her career path.

When Jennifer started with Xerox, most of the people her age had already been with the company for a long time. She knew that she needed to quickly acclimate to the company and with its culture. She felt that having a mentor who had been with the company for a while would help her get up to speed with everything she really needed to know – you know, the unspoken norms, the culture, the politics, etc.

Fortunately for Jennifer, she was a member of Xerox's The Women's Alliance (TWA) caucus group which had just launched a pilot mentoring program. She immediately found a mentor who helped her with many things. She was a great sounding board, wise and patient counselor and a now treasured friend. Several assignments (years) later Jennifer still wanted to continue her professional development. She wanted to continue to get “in the know” about other areas in the company so that she could start making moves on her career path. A few years prior, Jennifer acquired her MBA, and she wanted to leverage that part of her portfolio. She also missed working in operations and wanted to get back into that type of role, as well as learn new skills. It seemed she needed a different objective perspective, and decided on engaging another mentor.

Finding Judy

The TWA mentoring program is powered by Mentor Scout, our online mentoring software program, which made it easy for Jennifer to search for a new mentor by using its profile searching capabilities. All she had to do was update her mentoring profile, enter the search criteria that was most important to her, and click a button. The program responded with a list of several potential mentor candidates in order of how well they matched Jennifer’s wish list. As she scrolled through them with her set requirements in mind, she found a 100% match with Judy Novak.

Judy was perfect because, like Jennifer, she had professional experience outside of Xerox. Jennifer knew she wanted a “safe” person with whom she could share confidential information with, the types of things that she didn’t want her subordinates, peers and managers to know about. She knew Judy would be able to help her, so she reached out to her formally through the Mentor Scout program and invited her to be her mentor.

Getting Started

Judy worked in the building next door to Jennifer’s, and Jennifer walked over for the first meeting with a meeting agenda and mentoring objectives in hand. They started out the mentoring relationship learning about each other and what each of them were looking for in a mentor/mentee. Judy gave Jennifer “homework” the first day – she had to look through organizational charts – and from then on, she always left their meetings with various activities she was to perform on her own to help in her development or understanding of Xerox.

When they’d look at things, like the org structure, Judy would ask her, “What does this mean? How does this align?” She really helped Jennifer see how everything and everyone on the chart worked together in a simple, realistic way. Jennifer knew at that point that when she “grew up,” she wanted to be able to understand the corporate strategy to be able to dissect the company the way Judy does.

Judy knew that if Jennifer wanted to expand her career within Xerox, she needed to understand all the players. She told her, “When you think about your career, you tend to think about what you know. Instead, think about how you can take your current assignment and leverage that in a totally different place.”

The Mentorship

Judy and Jennifer met about once a month. They’d talk about all kinds of things that were very helpful. For example, Judy would ask her, “Where do you want to be in 5 years? What are the next 5 jobs you could see yourself in the next 5-10 years?” They would talk about what type of experience/skills Jennifer needed to be able to attain those roles.

And then they’d test it out. After Jennifer would learn more in-depth information about a particular role, Judy would ask her if she still thought it was a good fit for her needs, personality, etc. She’d ask her to name the top two or three things that were important to her for each role. It was actually quite emotional for Jennifer. Every time Jennifer would hesitate, Judy would say, “Aha! That tells me something about that one.”

Judy also helped Jennifer with some unexpected things. She had been trying to get on a particular executive’s calendar for more than a year and shared her frustration with Judy. Within 24 hours, the executive called Jennifer. And then two of his direct reports called her to help as well!

The end results is that Jennifer did achieve her career switch goal – she is now a Program Manager at Xerox Corporation in which she partners with the Billing Center of Excellence team, finance leaders, and sales support community to lead operational excellence initiatives, utilizing Lean Six Sigma to drive productivity.

Final Thoughts

The mentorship between Jennifer Allen and Judy Novak has transitioned into a friendship now. They were both surprised to learn that their children attended the same school in the same class and they had never met before!

Jennifer’s advice to other women out there regarding mentoring is – “Just do it. Just sign up and get started. When you’re starting a second career, mentorship is a valuable tool that can help you overcome obstacles and achieve your career objectives. I think that you have to be open to receive the feedback you’re getting. You have to follow through on the things you’re being counseled on. And if you disagree, that’s okay too. But just try it.”

Jennifer has now signed up as a mentor in the TWA program and has her own mentee. She’s been a mentor in other arenas for years and even has a mentee in Ghana. For information on starting or enhancing a mentoring program in your organization or association, please contact Kerrie Main at [email protected] or visit www.mentorscout.com

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