I started my career at the tender age of 19. New to the working world, I didn’t really know just yet what I wanted to do with my life – I only knew that I wanted to learn and grow, and I hoped that wherever my path led, I would achieve professional success. Throughout my career I have been influenced by many people; some have driven me forward and some have held me back. I’d like to share the story of one of the single most important relationships that has helped drive my career forward; it’s about a person who took me under his wing but also let me fly on my own when the time was right. This is the story of my mentor.
With just a year of college under my belt, I landed a job with an organization that was not only a major employer in Southern Indiana where I reside, but across the world. I was hired as a Recruiting Coordinator despite my lack of HR experience and, while excited about the opportunity, I was a bit nervous about learning the ropes. I met the team and noticed how different everyone was – this diversity excited me because I knew it meant I would be exposed to many unique styles and backgrounds which would only enhance my learning process.
When I was introduced to the Supply Chain Recruiter, he seemed to be my polar opposite; 23 years older, a former Green Beret, even physically he was a big guy! We made some small talk and I was impressed to find out he grew up in the Bronx, NY, a place I had dreamed of visiting. He was equally interested in hearing about my life growing up on a farm in rural Indiana. We somehow bonded over our differences and became friends.
One day as I was working at my desk, the recruiter walked by and said “Hey you, come on”! He was headed in to a meeting with some of his hiring managers and wanted to bring me in to observe. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew he had brought me in for a reason so I sat there like a sponge, absorbing all the knowledge and expertise he had to offer. I was so determined to learn and succeed that the next time he called me to join him in a meeting, I dropped what I was doing. I felt very fortunate that this colleague saw something in me and wanted to help. Throughout my time with that organization he continued to find opportunities for me to listen and learn, and I took advantage of every invitation I received.
I’m very passionate about recruiting our veterans, and when I heard that we would be attending a job fair at West Point I jumped at the chance. It was also my big chance to visit New York! As a veteran and West Point grad, the recruiter was also attending the event at West Point. The trip was a success and by the end of it, the recruiter and I had formed such a strong relationship that he even included me in time spent with his family when he visited them during the trip.
We were both laid off in 2008, and I thought we would go our separate ways. I was wrong. During my search for work, he was my main sounding board, helping me to look at all the benefits and downsides to potential roles. Even now, seven years later, he is my key confidante for both professional and personal decisions and struggles. Many millennials will go to their parents when making major life choices, but I have the added benefit of having a strong mentor to help guide me. While he has two sons close to my age, he has told me that I am like a daughter to him.
I have learned so much from my mentor, from how to present myself professionally to how to network, but one of the most valuable things I learned from him is how to interact with veterans. Not only has he helped me to form connections with veteran organizations, he taught me how to speak to military candidates and read military resumes. His guidance led to my being recognized as one of the top recruiters of military talent at Schwab for 2014, despite having newly transitioned to a recruiter role mid-year.
Mentoring relationships can come about in many different ways. Some organizations offer formal mentoring programs where you are matched with a business leader based on varying criteria. Some employees seek out mentors that they know will help advance their careers. I count myself very lucky to have crossed paths with someone early in my career who saw my full potential even before I did, and with whom I formed a mentoring relationship that over time evolved into a lifelong friendship.
My mentor was instrumental in shaping my career. If not for his guidance early on, I likely would not have stayed in the Talent Acquisition field. No matter where you are in your career, I encourage you to seek out a mentor that will challenge you to think differently, provide honest feedback and, above all, provide a trusted friendship that you will value for years to come.
Michelle Shea is a Talent Advisor for Schwab’s Client Service & Support roles including Broker Training and Financial Consultant Academy programs. She has been in the recruiting field for eight years. In her spare time you can find Michelle on the softball field at home in the Indianapolis, IN area.