How to Get an Outside Mentor, Use Hashtags in Twitter and Ensure Good Job References

Quick tips ranging from finding a mentor to securing a positive reference from a previous employer.

You don't need to be a recent college grad or mid-level employee to benefit from a mentor. In fact, says Caroline Simard, director of research at the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and coauthor of Mentoring in a Box, mentoring is shown to increase future earnings, promotions, job satisfaction and retention regardless of your career stage. "It's especially important now because as Baby Boomers prepare to retire, there's this whole knowledge transfer that needs to happen," she says. Here's how to find an outside mentor and get the most from that relationship.

1. Define your goals. Make a list of what you're hoping to get out of a mentoring relationship, and be specific. Do you want to brush up on presentation skills? Become more familiar with social media? Get more comfortable with programming? Also, says Simard, understand that you probably won't find one mentor for everything. "Having one, in-depth relationship is somewhat of a myth now," she says. "It's perfectly acceptable to have many mentors for many things."

2. Propose a mentorship. Determine who the best people are to learn from for each specific skill, and don't just concentrate on those in higher positions. "If social media is something you want to learn more about, a young colleague might be the best person to be mentored by," advises Simard. Explain to each of these people that they have a specific skill set that you want to hone. "Usually if there is direction in a relationship, people are very willing to accept," she says. Propose a length of time for the relationship (allowing you an "out" if it's not a good fit), how often you'd like to meet and the logistics of the meeting (via phone, in-office, e-mail, coffee break, etc.). Be as flexible as possible.

3. Plan for your meeting. "Think of it like a business meeting," Simard says. "You don't propose one if you don't have anything to talk about." Prepare by making a list of topics you want to cover. These may include scenarios that you had difficulty navigating, questions about an application or specific, career-related inquiries.

...use hashtags in Twitter

While you can use Twitter's search tool to find specific users and their messages, hashtags allow you to sort tweets into specific categories. The trend of using hashtags led to the community-driven site Hashtags.org, where a semiofficial directory of Twitter's hashtags now resides. If you're writing a tweet about a topic you think may already have a unique hashtag assigned to it, check the site's directory of alphabetically listed hashtags or just type your query into the keyword search. Using the appropriate hashtag in your tweets also aids in helping other Twitter users find your tweets more easily.

-C.G. Lynch

...ensure good job references

Have you ever wondered what your professional references say about you when prospective employers call them? Perhaps you suspect that one or more of your references isn't providing the glowing review of you that he or she promised when you were laid off. To ensure a good job reference, says Jeff Shane VP of Allison & Taylor, a professional reference-checking and employment verification firm, make sure you keep in close contact with references—an active and positive relationship is key. Let them know the kind of positions you'll be applying for and when they might get a call from a prospective employer. Offer frequent updates on your activities and tell them you appreciate their support.

-Meridith Levinson

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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