Career mentoring can support student employability

Support for students extends beyond the classroom. Here’s how to develop a successful mentoring programme to help students take their first steps into the workplace

Zurria Qureshi's avatar

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University of Westminster

University of Westminster
21 Oct 2022
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Career mentoring can be a vital tool for improving graduate prospects. It can provide students with links into industry and a chance to network with professionals as they navigate the early stages of their career.

Here are seven tips for setting up a successful career mentoring programme:

1. Identify your target audience and purpose of the programme

Identifying your target audience will allow you to tailor your mentoring programme and its purpose, and the role that your mentors and mentees will play. For example, a mentoring programme aimed at BAME students may focus primarily on EDI challenges or barriers in the workplace. Alternatively, final-year students may benefit from more bespoke careers guidance such as job-searching tips and interview preparation.

2. Choose the type of mentoring

Mentoring models include one-to-one, long-term, short-term, peer- and group-mentoring options. Would a structured, formal model – where mentors and mentees meet for several sessions over a certain period – work better? Or would your mentees benefit from an informal setting, such as group mentoring?

Consider how much time your mentors and mentees have available between their work or studies for a mentoring relationship. Will mentoring take place in person or virtually? Flexible options will help you attract and reach more mentors and mentees.

3. Provide training and resources

For any mentoring relationship to be successful, mentors and mentees will need support in the form of training and resources. Whether delivered to mentors/mentees together or separately, the training should focus on managing expectations and ensuring everyone understands their role.

Bespoke training and handbooks or mentor/mentee guides are useful resources throughout the mentoring relationship. These should include suggestions on discussion topics for the sessions and perhaps a mentoring agreement template, where participants can clearly agree on ground rules at the start of the relationship.

4. Build in feedback and evaluation

Gathering regular feedback from your mentors and mentees will allow you to identify what may not be working and adapt your programme accordingly. One way to measure success is to develop specific questions that are asked in your feedback forms at both the start and end of the mentoring relationship. This will allow you to compare responses and identify how and where student confidence levels are improving. You could invite participants to informal drop-in sessions to determine whether the aims of your programme are being met.

5. Involve your alumni and reach out to employers

When it comes to mentor recruitment, you have a ready-made pool of professionals at your fingertips – your alumni. Your former students will undoubtedly have gone on to have successful careers and by inviting your alumni to mentor, you’ll not only build a sense of community through staying connected with the university but will also give them the opportunity to pass on advice that they wish they had as a student. Virtual mentoring can allow you to involve alumni based internationally, helping to widen your students’ horizons.

Do you work with employers who already offer students work placements or internships? Many organisations encourage volunteering hours for their employees, so this could be the perfect way to get them connected with your students through mentoring.

6. Create bespoke matches

As with any relationship, there needs to be common ground between your participants. How you match up mentors and mentees will depend on the skill set and knowledge of your mentors as well as the aims of your mentoring programme. You can use predetermined criteria to suggest matches, allow mentees to select their own mentors or vice-versa. Regardless of how much control you have on the matching process, it’s important to understand your students and what they seek from the mentoring relationship.

At the University of Westminster, our career mentoring programme focuses on the career or industry areas that students are interested in and matches them with mentors who have relevant experience and skills. Each match is considered individually to ensure the best match possible. This approach has resulted in thousands of successful matches, with mentors and mentees often staying in touch after the formal end of the programme, creating lifelong connections.

7. Promote, promote, promote!

When recruiting mentors or mentees, ensure that you include a clear visual identity on your promotional materials such as flyers/ testimonials – and don’t forget to reach out to your students’ union to connect with sports and society leaders.

Consider how to get buy-in from your stakeholders. What better way to do that than by inviting staff to sign up as mentors? They will see first-hand the benefits of mentoring for students, and working with academics will get the message out to even more students.

Appointing former mentees as mentoring ambassadors can also help raise awareness of the benefits of mentoring. Ambassadors can share social media posts or offer short in-class updates to their peers to endorse your institutional messaging.

It's best to start off small, but by keeping in mind these seven tips, you’ll be on your way to setting up a successful mentoring programme tailored to supporting your students’ employability.

Zurria Qureshi is mentoring manager in the Alumni Relations Office at the University of Westminster.

The team behind the Future Ready Mentoring programmes at the University of Westminster has been shortlisted for Outstanding Support for Students in the Times Higher Education Awards 2022. A full shortlist for all categories can be found here.

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