Finding Mentors: Who’s on Your Personal Board of Directors?

BP Oct 30 2015 Valerie

By Valerie Heruska, GSEHD, GWU, 2008

When I was a graduate student at GW, I was very focused on my school work and my assistantship at a local non-profit. I was exceling at both, and while I knew I would be successful at what I did, I knew that something was missing. My graduate school career was only two years long—opposed to the four years I spent as an undergraduate. While I only had half the time, I knew I had to put in more time and energy to not only get the degree, but to also land a job after I graduated.

Although I had built relationships with a lot of people who I would consider mentors and personal advisors through various jobs, classes, and internships, I was unaware of how to utilize these groups of people in a way that could help me through graduate school and into my professional life. That’s when I heard the phrase “personal board of directors”. Simply put, your personal board of directors is a group of people (mentors, advisors, colleagues, supervisors, etc) that you can be your champions when it comes to seeking out advice and feedback.

While I had a vast network of people, I needed to choose which people would be the best to assist me at that point in my life. Each of those people who I chose to sit at my personal board of directors table was able to contribute something different. Ultimately my board of directors included my two supervisors (I held two different jobs during graduate school – I would not suggest doing this), a mentor who knew me very well, and some classmates who I really trusted to give me their honest feedback.  Each person was able to offer me advice on things like resumes and cover letters specific to my job search, as well as interview advice. I learned from one of my board members how to negotiate a job offer, which is advice that I still use to this day.

Like a board of directors for a large Fortune 500 company, your personal board of directors will change over time. I’ve been out of graduate school for 8 years and my board of directors is vastly different than it was when I first began job searching. I will still seek out advice from my original board of directors, but there are colleagues, mentors, sponsors, and friends in my life now that can assist me to where I want to go.

Overall, having a personal board of directors has been a great asset to have in my professional career. Having these folks sitting at my table has helped me to be successful not only in my professional life, but their support has also helped me to accomplish things that I didn’t think I would be able to do. When it came to the tough stuff, these people were my confidants and were great to have in my corner. Having a personal board of directors is a great investment and hopefully one day, I will be sitting at someone else’s table with the opportunity to pay it forward.

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