Find a supply chain mentor. In fact, find more than one. Mentors can be incredibly valuable, career-long, possibly lifelong sources of advice and connections as you complete your studies, get your first full-time position, and advance your supply chain career. However, make sure you both understand the expectations of the relationship.
Finding the First Supply Chain Mentor, and the Next
You can get started while you are still a student by utilizing contacts you already have: a respected professor, someone you met during an internship, or a speaker that came to campus, even a relative’s friend or contact that happens to be in supply chain. Keep your eyes open and look for the many opportunities to talk with people to establish the initial face-to-face (even if that is now a screen-to-screen) opportunity to determine whether there is a good match. It may be very helpful to find someone that is from a different background than yourself so you can get a different perspective. If working internationally in supply chain is important to you, then find someone who has international business travel experience, preferably living overseas for some period of time. One mentor typically can’t give you everything you need, so be prepared to have a plan about the areas where you need help and look to fill them.
Get Your “Elevator Speech” in Order
The elevator speech is a commonly used expression for when you only have the amount of time an elevator ride would take to present an idea to someone. It applies as well when there is a short hallway meeting, a phone call, car ride, or after a guest speaker presentation. Make sure you have your pitch put together where you tell the person that you would like them to serve as a supply chain mentor to you because (fill in the reasons why you respect them and believe they would be a great mentor). Tell them what you hope to achieve, typically things like guidance as you advance your career, things you should be paying attention to, skills that are important. Don’t expect everyone to say yes immediately and be prepared for some possible “no” answers. They may already be mentoring, the time might not be right, or they may not be sure it is a good match.
Formal Arrangements Are Not Required
Some people shy away from a formal mentor-mentee relationship because they may not want to make a long-term commitment. You can simply ask some people whether they would just be willing to talk with you from time to time when you have a career-related question. You may find that the relationship essentially turns into a mentor-mentee arrangement without having the label. There are some people who establish a personal board of advisors (they may only keep the term to themselves). The “Board” may simply see themselves as trusted resources to be able to talk about career issues. No matter what it is called, having people that are happy to talk with you about career issues is a valuable asset.
Set the Expectations
If they are open to the idea, then propose how often you would like to talk (monthly, quarterly, yearly, etc.) and the kind of things you would like to discuss during your meetings (what you are currently doing, interactions in the industry, struggles you might be having, successes that excite you about your career, trends in the industry, etc.). Then ask them for their ideas for how they would like the relationship to work. Make sure you listen a lot rather than doing most of the talking because that is part of the role they serve.
Sharing Your Personal Likes, Dislikes, and Goals
Supply chain mentors are at their best when they already understand the kinds of work you like and dislike, plus where you think you want to go in your career. We have interviewed dozens of supply chain professionals whose career paths go in unexpected directions, but it is typically because they have some idea of what they like and don’t like, plus they keep their options open because they don’t know what they don’t know. Plus, conditions change over time and mentors may have been through similar situations. They may have seen others go through challenges based on similar likes, dislikes, and desired paths that may or may not fit you. Be as open as you can, but of course, you have to have your own degree of comfort with how much you share with your mentor.
Make the Most of Every Meeting
Make sure you are on-time and are respectful of the mentor’s time. Come prepared to the meeting with questions you’d like to have answered and a clear update on what is happening in your supply chain career development, but keep in mind it is not a one-way agenda. Thoughtful, open-ended questions about the industry are good for your mentor to have flexibility. Don’t go overtime without asking them if they have a few extra minutes available. Thank them every time prior to ending the meeting and let them know how much it means to you that they take the time out of their busy careers to help you. Finally, between meetings, make sure you have evaluated their advice and be prepared to tell them how you have applied the ideas you shared.
Not Just a Feel-Good Therapy Session
Your supply chain mentor is not there to just agree with you or give you unconditional support. They are at their best when they challenge you with constructive feedback. Ask them to provide critiques of actions and alternative ways of handling situations. You don’t really improve and advance without doing the hard, introspective work of taking critical advice and learning how to incorporate it into your career.
Evaluate Advice, Take Action, Then Follow-Up
Nothing is more frustrating to a mentor to know that they have given the same advice multiple times and the mentee has not taken action or remembered the advice. Take notes. Develop a plan of action. Keep track. Share the results with mentors and thank them for their advice. Nothing is more satisfying to a mentor than to know that their advice helped improve a career. Keep in mind also that you don’t have to agree with every piece of advice. If you can thoughtfully show why it may not apply to your situation at this time, then you should feel free to be able to say so or propose another path and ask for feedback.
Develop a Mentee Circle
Develop peer relationships with others in your company or with people at other companies. Share the advice you are receiving, effectively multiplying the benefits of each other’s mentors. However, it is likely best to keep specific names and companies out of the conversation unless the mentor has approved being named a particular piece of advice.
Pay It Forward
Once you establish your supply chain career, pay it forward and serve as a mentor to one or more students and one or more working professionals. Mentees can often turn out to be valuable networking contacts that also provide fresh ideas about their industries, evolving responsibilities, and the tools and techniques they are using as part of their supply chain careers.
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