Employability Mentoring: The Professional ‘Unplugged’

Running an Employability Mentoring project at DMU allows me to meet with a wide variety of professionals, all with their own particular career path and story to share. Whilst my role requires me to bring together students and industry mentors to form meaningful and mutually beneficial professional relationships, I seldom have the opportunity to see mentoring in action. I recruit people, I match them, induct them, and then I move on to the next. I see the fruits of the project in reviews and evaluations with one party or the other but rarely get to see mentoring in action… The essence of what I create is, for the most part, invisible to me. Recently, however I was afforded the opportunity to observe mentoring in action and to reflect on what it is that we are offering students at DMU…

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The opportunity arose as part of a pilot scheme that we are trialling with notable alumni of DMU. I have been working in partnership with Dr Hulya Oztel for a short while now to build a mentoring pilot project that seeks to utilise the knowledge, experience and insight of Bijna Dasani (Vice President at Deutsche Bank). Bijna expressed a voluntary desire to mentor students following a guest lecture that she attended in March 2015. A growing number of students and graduates of DMU expressed interest in being mentored by Bijna, and as a result of meetings, conference calls and emails, a plan to provide an initial session of group mentoring was agreed. The session would be filmed in order to share Bijna’s perspective with other students who were interested in her pathway too. On 24th September 2015 in Hugh Aston a group of students met with Bijna under the lights and cameras of Ping TV.

Any group mentoring environment is a potentially difficult one to facilitate, as there is a pressure on the mentor to be able to relate to and meet the needs of every mentee in the group. One-to-one, in many respects, is simpler as this allows a dedicated focus on the needs of the individual. Despite the careful planning ahead of the session, this could have posed a challenge for Bijna…

However, in observing Bijna mentoring her students, something struck me. Employability mentoring at DMU allows a mentor to share their perspective in a manner that is not constrained by what could easily be an overpowering corporate message. It allows them to distance themselves from the organisation and its own ways of carefully orchestrated self-promotion and instead gives a freedom to the mentor to share openly and honestly about themselves and their own particular path. So often in life (outside of mentoring) when a professional talks of their work it is filtered to include corporate messages, a slant towards brand and promotion and at times seldom gives freedom for the mentor to express individual thoughts and their own perspective.

Mentoring allows the professional a more intimate opportunity to connect with mentee(s) and share a dedicated, raw perspective using their skills in a more critical, bespoke way. Rather like music, with an artist playing live to a small audience seated close, the dialogue is transformed, stripped back and honest. They become a professional ‘unplugged’. Standing behind the cameras and lights from a distance allowed me to observe Bijna as she navigated questions, unfolded her journey and carefully responded to individuals, not just in a way that addressed the enquiry of the person posing the initial questions, but opening up the debate to invite comment and response from the wider group. Responding, facilitating, welcoming and engaging.

Over the course of the session, she used her skill in taking a topic and making it relevant to all that were present. Initially starting with something they could relate to as a group, Bijna carefully interweaved the content into more deliberate conversations with each person, motioning towards individuals, using points she had picked up from each, noting what they said and (crucially) reflecting these back to each for them to see themselves in a different way. Whilst her career path and the kudos of her position may have been the initial draw for the mentees in seeking their own career success, what was presented to them was not a pitch of how to succeed in Deutsche Bank, but an interactive dialogue focus on how rather than what was achieved by the individual; a message of internal self-belief and accomplishment against at times insurmountable odds, rather than what is seen by others outside as ‘success’. Key to the success of the session was Bijnas ability to connect her story to theirs; she had an ability to craft a story that was ordinary in its beginnings yet extraordinary in its achievements. It was clear the dialogue was having a profound impact and it did not yield even as the final messages of thanks were conveyed to Bijna.

As the camera lights cooled and Bijna readied herself for her next meeting in a string of appointments at DMU there was a tangible buzz amongst the participants who understood that they had just been a part of something very special.  As we closed, our mentor became the focus of a seemingly unending barrage group selfies, handshakes, emotional gratitude and praise. Our end point so different from the start. ‘Employability Mentoring’, whilst focused on the professional, had become a very personal experience to those involved.

Andy Morris, Employability Mentoring Project Officer

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