CSE Mentor Program How to Guide for Students
2019-20 Guide for Students
This guide provides some sample language for various issues that might come up during the year with your mentor. If you need help navigating any of these issues, please reach out to us! We are more than happy to help!
- How to reach out to your mentor for the first time
- How to ask your mentor for help with setting a goal
- How to be prepared for a mentor meeting
- How to tell your mentor you're too busy this week/month
- How to tell your mentor you need to reschedule a meeting
- How to tell your mentor you don’t want to do something they’ve suggested
- How to ask your mentor to connect you to someone in their industry/company
- How to ask someone for an informational interview
- How to take feedback graciously
- How to write a thank you note
How to reach out to your mentor for the first time
Reaching out to a new person can be intimidating! Your first contact with your mentor does not need to be lengthy, but should express excitement to meet and gratitude for their time. You can also note what made you choose this particular mentor – was it some specific experience they listed? A company they worked for? You should also briefly mention what your goals for the program are. Finally, you should confirm if they will be attending the Kickoff event, or if you cannot attend the Kickoff, suggest a time for your first meeting.
Dear [Mentor Name],
My name is [Your Name] and I’m very excited to begin the mentor program! Thank you for volunteering your time for this program. I was especially interested in your [work, specific experience, company, - why you chose this mentor]. My goals for the program include [searching for an internship, developing skills A and B, learning about careers available to my major, etc.].
I will be attending the Kickoff Event on October 15 and look forward to meeting you there. Please let me know if you are unable to attend the Kickoff and we can schedule an alternate time to meet.
I am not able to attend the Kickoff Event on October 15 due to (class/work/lab conflict). Are you available to have our first meeting the next week? I’m available [list days and times].
Setting goals for the year can be daunting. It can be hard to figure out where to start. If you’re having trouble coming up with SMART goals, or breaking large goals down into smaller action steps, talk to your mentor!
Ask how they might tackle a goal, or brainstorm types of goals you could focus on. What types of goals did they have in school or in their first years in the workplace? What types of goals do they wish they had focused on? What types of goals do they have now? All of these questions are a great way to narrow down your focus.
You don’t have to take their suggestions, but remember to thank them for their advice!
Being prepared for your meetings with your mentor is one of the most important ways to show your gratitude for their time and commitment to the program. Before each meeting, make a list of what you want to discuss, things to follow up on from your last meeting, or any action items you have.
Email or text your mentor, depending on their preference, a reminder about the meeting and list the items you’d like to cover, or the activity you decided on earlier. Doing so allows your mentor to also be prepared for the meeting. If there’s a task you’d like them to complete before the meeting, such as reviewing your resume, proofreading a paper, etc., give them plenty of notice.
At your meeting, bring your notes, any documents you want to look at, and some way to capture notes and action items (notebook, laptop, etc.).
Dear [Mentor Name],
I’m looking forward to our meeting on [date and time] at [location]! I’d like us to focus on [topic, activity, etc.] during this meeting, if possible. I’d really like to get your feedback on [topic] and how you’ve experienced it [in the workplace, at school, etc.].
[Add anything you’d like them to do in preparation, or anything you’re doing in preparation. For example:]
Before we meet, would you have time to read my attached resume? I’d like to focus on how to show my experience in certain areas. I will come with some examples of experiences that we can discuss in addition.
If you’re coming up on a particularly busy time period, it’s best to let your mentor know in advance if you’re going to have trouble keeping in touch. Letting your mentor know doesn’t need to be hard. You can mention it in a planned meeting, or email or call your mentor. Then make sure to follow up once you’re able to be in touch again!
Dear [Mentor Name],
I wanted to let you know that I will not be able to [meet/check my email/be in touch] during the [next week/month/specific time period] due to [finals/trip out of town/large project for class]. I will be sure to let you know when I’m free again.
Life happens! Sometimes you might need to reschedule a meeting with your mentor because something comes up – a due date, a meeting with your advisor, work, etc. The most important thing is to let your mentor know as soon as possible if you won’t be able to make a scheduled meeting or call and to suggest potential new dates for your meeting.
Dear [Mentor Name],
I will need to reschedule our upcoming [meeting/call] on [date] due to [conflict]. Can we move our meeting to [new date] or [new date]? I’m available at the following times: [list dates and times].
Your mentor may have a lot of suggestions for activities, discussion topics, goals, or action steps. That’s great! Your mentor will have a lot of experience to draw from and may have thought of things you haven’t considered. We encourage you to push yourself out of your comfort zone and into the growth zone, but, some of their suggestions may not interest you.
If that’s the case, and you need to tell your mentor you don’t want to pursue an idea they’ve had, make sure to be respectful and honest. Let your mentor know why you’re not interested in their idea and what you’d like to do instead. And, as always, thank them for their suggestion.
If possible, try to have this conversation face to face (or on the phone). If you need to, you can ask for some time to consider their suggestions and then contact them a few days later to let them know what you think.
Thank you so much for all of your suggestions about [goals for the year, activities we can do together, discussion topics to tackle, next steps I can take]. I really appreciate your thoughtful advice. However, I don’t think [specific activitiy/ies] is something I’d like to pursue at this point. [List reason for why you don’t want to pursue it, for instance, if it conflicts with another goal you have, if it doesn’t align with your schedule, if it is outside your comfort zone at this time, etc.]. Instead, I was hoping we could [provide an alternative – either a different suggestion from your mentor, or one of your goals/activities/topics. This is a good time to make sure you and your mentor are on the same page about what you hope to achieve this year]. How does this sound?
If you’re interested in pursuing their suggestion later, let your mentor know!
Your mentor can be a great contact to further your professional network. If you’re interested in meeting other professionals in your field you can ask your mentor if they have any colleagues, friends, or former mentees they can put you in touch with. While you can ask your mentor for contacts anytime, it might be particularly helpful when you feel you’ve exhausted your mentor’s knowledge base or expertise in a given area.
Remember, however, that mentors are doing you a favor. Make sure you’re respectful in asking, and, if a mentor cannot provide you with a specific contact, don’t push the issue. If possible, ask your mentor when meeting face to face (or on the phone) about connecting with colleagues. Sample language is below.
I was hoping you might be able to connect me to a colleague [at company, in industry, or in a specific job] that I could talk to about [explain reason for meeting, such as informational interview to learn more about their job, their education path, etc.]. Do you know anyone who might be willing to [meet with me, share more about their experience, let me shadow them for a day, etc.]?
Remember to thank your mentor for their help!
Informational interviews are an excellent way to learn more about potential jobs and careers. Though informational interviews are not about getting a job, they are about exploring companies, industries, and career paths. The most important thing to remember about informational interviews is that you need to go into them with clear, specific questions that can only be answered by someone working in the field so that you don’t end up wasting the time of your connection. If able, provide a list of 3-5 questions in advance so that the contact can make sure they are the best person to help.
Questions such as:
- What type of education path succeeds in this industry/job/company?
- What is the most important thing a sophomore/junior/senior interested in this industry/job/company can do while they’re still in college?
- What do you wish you had known about the field before starting in it? Do you think there are common misconceptions people have about this work?
- Is there anything you see job candidates around my level doing that you think really hurts them? Or that you’d wish people would do differently?
- Can I tell you a little about my background and experience so far, and see if you have any suggestions for things I can do to strengthen myself as a candidate?
My name is [name] and I am a [sophomore, junior, senior] at the University of Minnesota working towards [degree program]. I was given your name by [connection] as someone who might be able to answer a few questions about [specific job, company]. Would you be willing to meet for coffee and share your insight into [specific job, company]? I am very interested in [the type of work you do, this company, this specific industry] and would like to learn more about what it takes to succeed in this [job, industry, company].
If you’re available, I can provide a list of questions I have in advance. I’m available [dates and times]. I’d love to connect if you’re able.
Remember to thank the contact, whether they’re able to meet with you or not! And follow up an informational interview with a thank you email – this is a great way to continue to expand your professional network.
Critical feedback, no matter how much we ask for it, can be very difficult to receive. Even when delivered thoughtfully and candidly, it can be hard to hear how we may improve or that others’ perceptions of our behavior do not match our own. However, constructive feedback can be an effective tool for personal and professional growth. So before dismissing feedback as invalid or becoming overly defensive, take a step back and consider what is being said. Good feedback is not about your worth as a person, but about your behavior.
Writing professional thank you notes is a skill that will serve you greatly in your professional life. Thanking a colleague, a client, interviewer, or a mentor can help build and maintain your network.
You should definitely thank your mentor at the end of the program, but may also want to thank them during the program if they connect you with a colleague, set up a tour of their company, or help with a project. The best thank you notes are personal and sincere.
Think carefully about what your mentor has done over the year and how you see yourself using their advice in the future to help craft your thank you note.
Thank them for participating in the program:
Dear [Mentor Name],
Thank you so much for taking the time to be my mentor this year. I have sincerely enjoyed the time that I have spent with you this year and am so grateful for your generosity.
I really appreciate your advice and guidance on [specific topics, goals, issues you had, etc.]. I have learned a great deal from you, and the value of your mentorship has proved immeasurable. I’m excited about beginning [next step for your goals, specific action item your mentor suggested, etc.].
Once again, thank you for your commitment to my future success. I look forward to the day I can do the same for someone else.
Thank them for introducing you to a contact or setting up an informational interview/job shadow:
Dear [Mentor Name],
Thank you for your help [introducing me to Name, setting up informational interview with Name, setting up a job shadowing experience with Name]! I am so appreciative of your willingness to support my future success.
[Detail something you learned from the experience and an action step you’ll take as a result. For instance, did you learn something about the industry/company/job that you’re excited about? That was surprising? Will you continue to meet with the contact? Did you receive advice you’ll take on how to tailor your resume, how to conduct your job search, or another matter? Detail what you’ll do next.]
Thank you again for your support!