The Importance of Mentors – Shahida Aslam

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I’ve been with the Helena Kennedy Foundation (HKF) for nearly eight years. My journey, like that of many people, was guided by my parents, who instilled the importance of education. And so I went to school,  to college, and then to university.

That was my parents’ plan, but after I finished my degree, I was unsure of what to do. However, I did know that I wanted to do something that was going to make a difference. It was only in my second job after leaving university that I met my manager who turned out to be my first ever mentor and who really helped me open up the options to look in the direction I wanted and to find a job where I could help others.

Conversations with mentors are so different from those with most other people. While friends and family tend to have your best interests at heart, they are often directive and have preconceived ideas and projections in mind for you. By contrast, this first mentor never told me what to do but always guided me. She was not a friend but a friendly and benevolent observer and someone I could go to for an honest opinion.

She, like so many other mentors, shared with me the tips and pearls of wisdom she had gained through her life. From her, I learnt the importance of taking care of the small details and how much that mattered: how to say thank you properly; how to write good letters; how to present yourself in a business environment and other areas of my self-development.

Since then, in any job that I’ve had, I realise that somewhere along the lines I’ve always had a mentor and it has really made a massive difference. In my current role, I am grateful to the Kilfinan Group who helped me to secure a mentor many years ago. At first, we met quite frequently (once a week) and the meetings continued on a regular basis – once a fortnight and then once a month.

In my current role at the HKF, I always strongly advise every bursary winner to take advantage of the mentoring scheme we have or to find an outside mentor if they prefer. I believe it has never been more important than now – when we each face so many challenges and unknowns, when competition seems so tough – to have the supportive, guiding hand of a mentor.

A mentor is not a friend but is someone who you can speak to for guidance. A mentor is not your counsellor, but they can support you in choices you make, provide you with practical guidance and tips, help with career applications and growth, and introduce you to networks. Above all, they are a point of regular (though not too regular!) contact and someone who will help you reflect on your ideas and options.

Louise Lee, a HKF winner, shared on an NCFE podcast recently the importance of finding someone who had been through her journey or similar. You can tune in by clicking here.