Having A Mentor That Can Give You What You Want - Fair?
April 15, 2006 8:36 PM   Subscribe

How appropriate is it to consider someone your mentor, when you're hoping he'll grant you with something major in the future? Is this taking advantage of him and the mentorship? Or am I just being paranoid?

I was a student on a study-abroad tour last year and got along very well with the Program Manager (the head of the travelling staff). We talked often about anything and everything, he helped me out when I hit snags, we worked together on some projects, and we basically clicked.

He's currently working in a higher capacity at the same organization (a nonprofit that organizes global education programs, like my tour) and we've been in touch. He's helped me out with a couple of projects, and I've volunteered with them for a while.

He's a very nice and caring person; he really looks out for you. He's also very world-wise and has great perspectives on things. He has a great personality too (very charming and charismatic) and is very open to anything. Indeed, he is the perfect example of what I'm looking for in a mentor.

There is one snag though: I would really love to work in the same nonprofit one day. And he's the one in charge of new hires.

I did actually apply for a job with them recently but got turned down; he gave me some great insight into my strengths and weaknesses and encouraged me to work harder and try again, so that's all good. The people who get hired for these things are usually alumni, and the office is familiar with everyone else anyway, so there's no danger of "oh, you only got in because you know the guy." Everyone knows each other.

The thing is though, I'm a bit apprehensive about continuing a mentor-like relationship with him because I would still like to get a job with them someday soon and I don't want that to influence his decision too much (favouritism).

I'm not planning on bombarding him with questions every day; more like regular correspondence, talking about our lines of work, and also asking for advice if need be. But I don't want this to end up like "oh, you got a head start" - I'd rather get the job because I earned it, not because I managed to charm him to my side.

Am I just being silly? We're from two different cultural backgrounds (I'm Asian he's American) so that might account for the perspective difference. Or could this be a case of taking advantage? "Oh I'll get him to be my mentor so I'll have a closer relationship to him and he'd favour me" thing?

please excuse the confusingness. i'm trying to explain this the best I can! thank you.
posted by divabat to Human Relations (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think you're fine. How many people, really, get jobs because "they earn it" and how many get them because they know somebody? In the best situations, you're both perfect for the job and also have an in with the company. If you've already applied and gotten turned down, it's not like when/if they DO hire you it's only because you have some connection with the hirer. It will be because they know you, they like you, and you'll do a good job.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 9:13 PM on April 15, 2006

Relax. Ben Franklin wrote somewhere that the way to gain the good graces of a powerful person is not to do them a favor, but ask them for a favor. That way they feel they have an investment in you, and are solicitous of your welfare.

So maintain your end of the mentor relationship, it is entirely natural and good.
posted by LarryC at 9:54 PM on April 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

Yes, you're just being silly. So you'd get along well with your boss, he'd trust you, and you'd trust him. Where is the badness?

You're not pretending to like him to get a job. You really *do* like him. There's a huge difference between the two.

Seriously, would you feel better only applying for jobs where you know you'd hate your boss? That can't make sense, can it?
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 10:22 PM on April 15, 2006

Plus, if he has taken a special interest in you, it may well be because he sees you have talent and promise and commitment. If so, that renders the "get the job on your own merit" moot: you might well get it on your own merit, a merit your mentor had previously observed.
posted by Rumple at 1:01 AM on April 16, 2006

Male Male? Male Female?
posted by A189Nut at 5:25 AM on April 16, 2006

hot one-on-one mentor action?

seriously, this is the mentor's problem - not yours. they know what your aspiratins are, they can see what the relationship is, and if they think it is a problem, they will take the appropriate action. all you have to do is be sensitive to any change - if they seem to be pulling away, for example, accept that.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:09 AM on April 16, 2006

Mentoring, as practiced in corporate North America, is, above all else, a networking opportunity. Not quite the whole point is making connections who can help you land better jobs. If this guy can help you gather the skills to get the job you want (he's already shown himself willing to do so), then by all means, take advantage of that. But don't guilt yourself into thinking that in doing so, you're taking advantage of him.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:20 AM on April 16, 2006

The thing is though, I'm a bit apprehensive about continuing a mentor-like relationship with him because I would still like to get a job with them someday soon and I don't want that to influence his decision too much (favouritism)

Why the hell not? If you already have a good working relationship with him, that's an excellent reason for hiring you.

Throughout my career I've had many juniors I've helped out and kept track of. As they've blossomed I've been more than happy to get them on my own projects and recommend them to others. An employee who is a known quantity as opposed to a bunch of words on a resume is a very attractive prospect.

The flip side of this is that some juniors never blossom, or their skill set turns out to be different from the one I'm looking for. That's good too, I don't try to push them into positions they aren't suited for.


As a side note, I suspect you've never been hiring end of things before.

Just to let you know, for any position worth having there are usually a very large number of qualified candidates. Unless the job is extraordinarily specific, there is never any one "best" qualified.

The decision between the qualified candidates is almost invariably based on how well people think the candidate will fit with coworkers. Personality (or "charm" as you call it) is frequently a deal breaker.

In the end, only after doing the work for a while will you (or anyone else) know if you are the right person for the job. If you aren't up to it, then rumors will start about why you were hired. If you exceed at your job, no one will say a word.
posted by tkolar at 11:00 AM on April 16, 2006

tkolar: ha that's right! I've never had to hire anyone, so I'm not sure how that works on their end.

A189Nut: He's, well, male, and I'm female. He's married (his wife works at the same nonprofit and we all know each other) and there is an age gap (35 vs 20) so it's more like a fatherly thing than anything. We all called them "Mum and Dad" in our tour. xD

I suppose I've been around a culture where people are frequently picked based on "who they know" with no regard for actual ability (they could be useless at it for all we know) so this seems like a bit of a strange middle ground for me. Like yes, I have the ability, and we like each other, but I'd rather be chosen because I CAN do it not because I just happen to know someone.

(there's a local movie here that kind of explores this - part of the plot involves a complete dunderhead who is only given a job at a company because his father knows the boss. Turns out that his father had given the company to his son (the dunderhead) as part of his will, so DunderHead becomes The Boss. The "villian", a headstrong yet snobbish girl who is the boss's daughter, tries to argue that business and personal shouldn't mix, yet it gets used against her. Messy and misogynistic and BAD movie, but it's a hit and reflects the local culture greatly!)

Thanks people. Your answers clarify things.
posted by divabat at 11:36 AM on April 16, 2006

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