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Can mentoring help to prepare students for their future career?

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Ed Johnson, CEO and Founder of mentoring and career development platform PushFar, discusses how mentoring can help to ready students for the working world.

Whilst the job market is buoyant at the moment, competition is as fierce as it has ever been to get a first foot on the career ladder after graduating from college or university. With increasing numbers of graduates flooding the market, it was estimated in 2020 that there were over 100 candidates competing for each open position. It is always a challenge for a graduate to stand out against other candidates with similar educational attainments, and the reality is that those unable to demonstrate some insight into and understanding of the profession that they are looking to enter may well struggle to impress their interviewee.

This conventional wisdom, that it is up to job candidates to come prepared and sell themselves to an organisation, can be of particular detriment to those students that come from more disadvantaged backgrounds, or a background that is perhaps just under represented in the particular industry that they have chosen to pursue. Applicants from ‘different backgrounds’ to the organisation they are applying for are often handicapped. Those that don’t have people around them that they can turn to with questions, and to ask advice, as they look to explore the career options open to them.

This is not just because the interviewers may have some unconscious bias, it is because the recruitment process itself favours the ‘majority’ at the organisation. Applicants that have easy access to the community or group represented at the company they are applying for can get a huge advantage by getting insights into the process, company, politics and even gain relevant experience. This then leads to a self-perpetuating cycle that veers an organisation towards one particular group.

As organisations look to improve their diversity and inclusion, one way to address this is from the ground up, as people are looking to enter the job market, so that equal opportunities are given to those from all walks of life with everyone able to have access and insight into a business. Mentoring can step in here – offering a source of support to students trying to grapple with the complexities of a future career, providing some direction and advice, particularly for those who would not otherwise have a role model to look up to. Evidence shows that people feel motivated and supported when they see senior leaders with whom they can relate.  It isn’t just about the insider knowledge that can be passed on – a successful mentoring relationship can help personal and professional growth, improving confidence and bringing out key employability skills, And the benefits that the guidance can bring in encouraging diversity are evident, with it being found that mentoring programmes boost the representation of underrepresented groups by 9% to 24%. 

For any student starting the process of pursuing a career though, regardless of background, finding a suitable and supportive mentor can prove invaluable. At Pushfar, we’ve worked closely with Bath Spa University to help put in place their mentoring programme, ‘MentorMe’. The University rightly recognised that many of their students struggle to know which career path will be right for them, and view the leap from the academic world into the working one as overwhelming at times. The wealth of options out there can seem a bit of a maze without any obvious entry point. Whilst the students often know their own strengths and skills, a mentoring relationship with an experienced professional can help them to identify how or where they can best be put to use in the working world, as well as bringing out those skills particularly valued by employers. Bath Spa’s ‘MentorMe’ programme has had overwhelmingly positive feedback, and is being expanded more widely throughout the University, as it helps take some of the fear of the unknown away, allowing students to acquire a better understanding of the professional world, and learn about opportunities available in specific areas.

For those who have a clearer idea of the path they wish to follow, a mentor might mean someone who is able to guide them through the quirks of a particular industry, and who can advise on the strengths and skills to focus on to launch a career. With 87% of people empowered by a mentoring relationship, it can be the start to building a professional network that becomes the launchpad of a career.

When it comes to bridging the divide between academic learning and insight into industry for students, and crucially to ensuring a more diverse and inclusive workforce of the future, there is no one straightforward solution, but mentoring can certainly play its part in helping to smooth the path.

Author: Ed Johnson, Founder and CEO of PushFar, a cloud-based mentoring and career progression platform.

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