Can I really be a mentor?

Louise McAward-White, 21.08.2017
Applying to the Mentoring for All scheme
I was very lucky early in my career to have an extremely good manager. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, I see now that she was a mentor to me; encouraging me to develop my skills, helping me find new opportunities and showing me all the options available in this incredible sector. It was this experience I had in mind when I applied to be a mentor on Mentoring for All.

But I began to doubt myself – what makes me think I can be a good mentor? What can I offer a mentee? I think of myself as still fairly early in my museum career. I’ve never had senior or even manager in my job title, but how important is that?

When I thought back, I realised maybe I’ve been mentoring without noticing for a few years: I’ve supervised interns who now work elsewhere in the sector, I’ve provided advice to people who have taken over roles I have left and I have managed volunteers just starting their careers.

I was surprised and thrilled to be offered a mentoring place on the scheme and eagerly attended the training day in May. As is often the case from training I realised I’d been doing some things totally wrong for ages and some things not too badly.

Talking with my fellow mentors was in turns reassuring and worrying – many have been mentors on the AMA and GEM schemes as well as being senior in their own organisations.

We spent some time thinking about the skills of a good mentor, creating personal qualities profiles to map where our skills were against the skills we thought we should have.

I know I have areas to work on – I need to understand the mentoring process better, and I need to work on my discretion, but I felt confident from the session that these things would come with time.

I also worried that in my own life I’m too keen to tell people what I think they should do, and not help them figure out their own course of action; this might be helpful when your friend has a bad boyfriend but not in mentoring.

At the training day we were also able to meet with our mentees, and I could straight away see why we would have been paired together. I was excited to get to work with someone who had taken a different entry route into the sector, and see how we could learn from each other. I was sure then, that I had done the right thing by filling in that application form.

At the time of writing, we have had one meeting to talk about our expectations for mentoring, our backgrounds and skills, what we want to get out of the process and what we expect from each other.

In our second meeting, we’re going to look at confidence and transferrable skills – something that everyone needs to think about. I can’t wait to really get started and learn new skills for myself, help others and contribute to the future of mentoring in the sector.