How to Be a Great Mentor for Your Younger Employees

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Remember what it was like when you first joined the working world? Pay it forward and mentor your young employees by sharing this advice. By Jess Dang (Founder, Cook Smarts)

This summer, Cook Smarts – the bootstrapped company I started in 2012 – was able to expand to an in-person team of three. All three women who joined me were early on in their careers. Recalling how lost I felt starting out in the “real world,” I decided to put together an informal-ish mentoring program.

Every Monday during our weekly scrum, I offered one simple development tip. Every week on Wednesdays, I brought in a lunch guest to talk about their work experience. We’ve had a lot of great thoughts shared, but if I had to boil it down, here are the three tips I would offer anyone beginning their career journey.

1. Passion is Not Enough

I frequently receive emails that start like this: "I'm currently working in the corporate world but my real passion is food."

As someone running a food business, I clearly want to hire people who have an interest in food but passion for a subject matter or an industry just isn't enough. It's not to say that passion is not important. It is. It's what drives entrepreneurs to start their businesses.

But the way businesses grow is through skill and thoughtful execution.

So instead of telling me you read a dozen food blogs every day (or whatever the equivalent is in your area of passion), tell me what skills you have, what you truly excel at (and it should not be reading food blogs) and how it helps me grow my business.

Remember that passion is what motivates you, but skills are what set you apart.

2. Find Out What You Truly Excel At

So what if you haven't figured out what you truly excel at? If you haven't, don't worry – you’re not alone.

When we're young, parents throw us into every possible activity from piano lessons to soccer to help us discover what we're good at. Even if you didn't become a piano prodigy or professional soccer player, this idea of trying a lot of new things should not stop at childhood. In fact, it's an even more important practice to adopt early on in your career.

I graduated college in 2003 with a History degree and no real understanding of what the working world was like or how I could contribute to it. I had never opened Excel or PowerPoint. This meant that I was pretty much useless working in a consulting firm,

But I made an effort to learn as many skills as possible to find out what I did well. Along the way, I discovered plenty of things I did not do well, but I found a few that I truly excelled at, like making sense out of a spreadsheet of numbers (surprising for a History major, right?).

Finding what you're really great at might be a numbers game. You may just have to try a lot of different things and volunteer to jump on projects that are outside of your job description. You can also take advantage of tests like Strengthsfinders and MBTI to provide some guidance as well.

The earlier you discover what you're good at, the less time you waste on jobs that are not suited for your strengths.

3. Find a Good Boss

There are studies that show the economic impact of having great teachers in your childhood vs. average teachers. I believe the same can be proven for having a great boss early on in your career.

It's not always clear what makes a good boss, but the two qualities I always look for is someone who is honest and fair.

A good boss should not be confused with a nice boss, who may just passively tell you that you're good at everything. This type of boss is easy to get along with and work for, but they’re also not being fair to your development.

A good boss is someone who gives an honest assessment of your work. They reward you when you do well and are quick to reprimand you when you do something wrong (but hopefully also quick to forgive the fault, too). And ideally they can help guide you towards what you're good at as well.

Early on in your career, there is so much learn and discover. If you focus your efforts on figuring out your comparative advantage, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to enjoy a fulfilling career.

How have you mentored younger employees?


About the guest blogger: Jess Dang is the Founder (aka Chief Kitchen Cheerleader) of Cook Smarts, a company devoted to helping home cooks live happier, simpler and smarter in the kitchen. She’ll be trying to write more on mentorship on her blog.