One question inevitably asked in an interview or when meeting someone for the first time is ‘tell me about yourself.’ This is an important question as it establishes your authentic self, brand, or identity. I remember practicing the answer to this question for countless interviews, trying out different words that expressed me accurately or highlighting certain traits relevant to the role I was applying for.
The answer however is not simply your professional or educational background. You need to bring in your whole self – your personality, strengths and passion, all that makes you a valuable colleague, team member or an acquaintance in a network. Knowing yourself is essential. Apart from letting you pitch yourself to others, this helps you navigate life better and work on building a better and stronger you with each passing day.
Jamesha Smith, a Talent Acquisition Manager at a large financial firm, tells us how finding oneself is important for developing yourself and building your career the way you want it to be. She has been pouring herself into a mentorship program for the past 13 years, helping women find their true selves and making their career dreams into reality.
Curious to know more about the impact of mentoring and her efforts toward career development for other women, I connected with Jamesha recently.
★ What led you to become a mentor?
I firmly believe in paying it forward. I have had many mentors, personally and professionally, who took time out from their busy days to give me feedback on developing myself. Mentors are not just invested in themselves but also in others, in each mentee they work with. I especially love the structured thinking that I have developed and know that this is important to be successful. I am happy to help other women looking for structure or wanting to know where to start in their careers.
★ We would like to know more about your mentoring program. What is the process you follow?
I begin with an informal conversation with the individual. This lets me connect with them and know their expectations from the mentoring program.
The first aspect is self-reflection. You should be able to identify and share with your mentor what you want to do, why you want to do it, and what skills you want to grow. Your personal and professional selves are actually combined to make the professional self you bring to your workplace. Your soft skills are sometimes important – how you communicate, empathize, and build relationships with others.
The next step is to build your brand. We never know who we will come across or when in our lives. It could be in a conference, a meeting or in an elevator. When we meet someone new, you definitely want them to know who you are and what values you bring to the table. Having your elevator speech ready is so important to convey who we are and build connections.
★ You mentioned self-reflection. For many, this may be uncomfortable as they may have not analyzed and understood themselves till coming into this program. How do you draw the women out?
I listen to them when they say why they want a mentor. Sometimes they let me know – I am not confident, or I don’t speak well. I ask leading questions that would help them analyze themselves, like what makes you happy or what makes you get up in the morning. I do not force anyone to tell me anything they do not want to share. We move on if they are uncomfortable. I sometimes go back to the question, just to put it in their minds and let them think it over at their own pace.
I am a very consistent person. I set the foundation in the initial meetings – who you are, what it is you want to do and where you want to grow. So, they are aware that we will focus on one point at a time.
★ What is your biggest strength as a mentor?
I am an active listener. I have a structure to everything I do. I provide a comfortable environment for my mentees to share openly with me and allow them to lead the partnership. They know I am here for them and that my door is open to them. I am happy to have a voice that is able to bring out their authentic self, enable them to grow and think through problems on their own.
★ What do you enjoy most about mentoring?
I love the networking that it allows me to do. I build my network, be it senior or entry level, and am still in contact with many of my mentees. I also derive happiness from watching people grow, taking feedback and applying it to wherever it is they need. I am grateful to be able to share my expertise. Many times, people just want someone to listen and acknowledge them. Through these mentoring partnerships, I give them that support.
★ What would you do if you feel the mentoring program is not progressing well with an individual
First, we work on any parts of the engagement or expectations that will resolve the concern. In some situations, there could be external factors that need time to resolve, and we may decide to change cadence or take a break. In a few instances, it’s recognition that the connection isn’t a good fit and making sure that the use of both individuals’ time is beneficial.
★ What are some of the more memorable experiences as a mentor for you?
There was this one lady, new to the firm, who was very sharp and intelligent. She needed self-love and structure and asked if she could work with me. We connected and worked together, putting up a 30-60-90-day career development plan for her. She took it back to her manager to share her efforts at developing herself and her career. The next month, I was thrilled to hear that she was promoted to a team lead as no one else in the team was doing what she was doing to build herself. She worked very hard on it. She is a manager now, and we still stay connected. I love knowing that I am making a difference in someone’s life.
★ What would be the best advice you would like to give to women out there to build successful careers?
Be honest, be extra and be assertive. Know what it is you want to do, build that foundation, self-reflect – who am I, what do I want to do and why. You have a voice, and it is powerful. Use your voice and all your gifts and skills to your advantage. Be confident.
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Jamesha, and for all that you are doing. We celebrate you as you bring to life the values that Her Nexx Chapter stands for – the possibilities are unlimited when women are directly involved in their own transformation.
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