Do you remember the pure joy that was graduation? We threw hats in the air and would have happily chucked all the schoolbooks, research projects, and class assignments along with them. We were finally free from homework… or at least we thought we were anyway. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have found that the homework that comes along with adulting makes the stuff I got in college seem like, well, child’s play. And it seems like social distancing has even upped the ante. Recently, my conversation with Priscilla Antunez, Assistant Director for Strategic Partnerships at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials in Brookhaven National Lab, demonstrated this. It started off on our ongoing theme of mentorship, but upon reflection I realized that throughout it she had a common thread on the vitality of homework which was so spot on, I just had to pull it.
Homework for Mentors
I know. You are already being generous with your time and talent in just being a mentor. Now I am going to say it requires homework, too? Yes. Yes I am. And here is why — Antunez nailed it when she said that effective mentorship requires research. She said first you must research your mentee. Dig in and ask them questions — what motivates you, what are your goals, what’s your long-term plan to get where you want to be, have you considered how your field is changing and will be different by then? Then look at their lives and see how well their answers match. Are there experiences that you could share that will help them readjust their plans or even their goals, if necessary? Antunez’ next step is to research what opportunities might be available to them and what other connections they could benefit from having. Taking five minutes before the meeting to look at their background or profiles could also be very helpful in thinking of connections that could provide more feedback and value to their quest.
I can attest firsthand to the difference it makes when a mentor comes in prepared. I once had a mentor suggest I look into Salesforce and pursue a media pass for Dreamforce. This was a previously unexplored tangent of my work, but ended up being my first step in transitioning to an engineering blogger. Because my mentor knew me, my interests, my skill sets and knew about this resource, my life was changed and I started a new adventure.
Homework for Networking
Obvious statement of the day: everything has moved online, and that includes networking. Unfortunately, that does not mean that everyone’s online skills were automatically upgraded, as Antunez and I commiserated during our interview. Instead, we were both able to share some truly cringeworthy experiences — like complete strangers randomly asking for jobs. In case you were debating this tactic, sending this type of LinkedIn message is like walking up to a stranger in a coffee shop and asking for a job. I’m all about shooting your shot when you have a chance, but that’s coming on waaaay too strong.
Now this allows us to continue our previous networking 101 and 201 tutorials. We can just call this little snippet Networking 201.5, and Antunez was able to provide homework for this course. So here we go: look up a potential contact’s LinkedIn profile and review videos, articles, and posts. Familiarize yourself with their network and background. This needs to be about more than just your needs. If it is going to be a professional approach to a shared opportunity, then you must do your homework about the other person and know how it benefits them as you consider the best way to make your approach.
Homework for Growth and Sanity
Here we are yet again. It’s the section of the blog where I tell you, “Keep learning. It’s vital for growth.” #iknowimobsessed #educationalbackground
But stick with me yet again, my friends, because winter is coming (in a very literal sense), and COVID-19 doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. Yeah, last time I survived it by indulging in too much takeout food, Netflix and ice cream, but as I’m watching the number of COVID cases rise, this time I’m hoping I can do more in my own personal quarantine. So perhaps this time we step away from the TV and plug into something that will fill us up in return. We can start checking out podcasts, get a Masterclass, LinkedIn Learning or other educational subscriptions, or work on gaining a new complementary skill to our current skillset. Start considering now which options are viable and beneficial in your living space. There really are so many out there. With the power of the internet, the world is still your oyster, even as we’re all stuck in our living rooms. So if/when we’re stuck in again, let’s run away from escapism and leverage this time better the second time around. Give yourself some homework that you will be happy to do.
All that being said, thank you my friends for making this one of your “homework” destinations. My hope is that we will keep growing together, and that I will get to meet more of you, like Antunez, who challenged me and gave me new opportunities to think, grow, and stretch myself. So please keep doing that homework and always feel free to share some of that good stuff with me. #networking201.5 #sharedopportunities
Jacquelyn Adams is a career development enthusiast and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, delving into more effective employee training strategies… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.