Andrea Collins, APR, FCPRS, and Dat Huynh, then a third year student in Mount Royal University’s public relations program were matched in the CPRS Calgary mentorship initiative in October 2018. Andrea and Dat were kind enough to provide their perspectives on their experience, while including some tips for mentors and mentees considering the program.
Andrea: Dat sent me an email shortly after we were matched through the CPRS mentorship program. We agreed that meeting in person was the best option, so we arranged to meet for coffee at a Starbucks. That first meeting set the tone for what was to come. Dat seemed a bit nervous at first, so we exchanged chit-chat to begin. We then shared our backgrounds vis-à-vis PR and Dat’s goals. He asked several insightful questions. I was very impressed that he had initiated an active search for his next internship, six months in advance of the start date. The time flew by and at the end of our first session, I asked Dat to send me a copy of his resume and a cover letter if he chose to have them critiqued. He agreed.
Dat: Membership programs such as this are incredibly valuable for any student who has encountered difficulties trying to plan the trajectory of his or her career in communications. And so that’s what I brought to my initial meeting with Andrea: my difficulties. I remember expressing what concerns and stresses me about where I was, where I wanted to be, and the gap between my goals and me. Our meeting was incredibly enlightening. I began to see the many ways that mentorship program serves as a bridge—establishing connections to new networks, knowledge and experiences.
Assessing and Advising
Andrea: Upon review of Dat’s resume and cover letter, I was able to identify a common weakness: too many I’s (think there were 21) and not enough expressed interest in the company to which he was applying. We discussed the importance of focusing on the company to which he was applying, and how he could help them.
Dat: This is where the bridging, as I mentioned before, became apparent. My cover letter underwent a major transformation because it didn’t quite answer the why, which is arguably one of the most crucial points of a cover letter.
Andrea: As Dat progressed through the interview process, I suggested he prepare by writing down logical questions and answers he might be asked, and to prepare 3-5 key messages in advance. We practiced his Q & A’s together and I was impressed by how Dat addressed the specific question, spoke for the right length of time, paused when he wanted to think about an answer, and proved he was every bit as competent verbally as he was in writing.
Dat: Interviews stress me out! For me, the stress is usually because I really want the position and I want to be able to be as prepared as possible. This means a lot of research and a lot of rehearsals. Practicing with Andrea and doing my research was really helpful. She also reminded me that the interview should be a two-way exchange, a conversation to determine a fit between both parties.
Andrea: Yes, Dat got the job! If you were at the last CPRS Christmas reception, you would have seen us hugging and jumping up and down as he shared the news. We met at least once more before Dat left for Vancouver and discussed expectations for a new employee. Some of our discussions over the year focused on juggling a busy student load with part-time work and job search. Dat has this aced, but he wants to be strategic with the places he works and the projects he takes on. I sometimes caution him to slow up a little and not get burned out. He listens, but continues in his own direction as he should. Like Atlas, he can take on an impressive load of commitments and never seem burdened, but while in Vancouver he did take long walks by the ocean and enjoyed friends and fun. It’s quite the opposite for me – I’m very good at the long walks, friends and travel, but was feeling restless with a lack of commitment. Mentorship has provided additional meaning in my life.
Dat: Time management is undoubtedly a perennial struggle for me, but I’m working on it! It just feels as though there are always competing deadlines, but I wouldn’t have it any other way! I like the mixture of different projects going at different paces, because there’s always an opportunity to learn something new and apply yourself in different ways. Sometimes it does feel like it encroaches on burnout territory, but I don’t think that’s as bad as it sounds. I think recognizing that you’re close to burn out is a good reminder to pause and re-evaluate your priorities.
Mentorship is a Win-Win
Andrea: Our internship connection officially ended in the spring, but we stayed in touch over Dat’s four-month internship and met again when he returned to Calgary. You may be wondering what I, as a mentor, got from the experience. I am semi-retired, so mentorship helps keep my brain going and ready to ask or answer some difficult questions. Spending time with a student or new grad reawakens your zeal for PR when you may have gotten a bit jaded. And there are many things Dat knows that I don’t – like social media. All in all, it was rewarding, and I volunteered to take on another mentee this year, but I’m sure Dat and I will continue to meet, discuss his challenges and celebrate his successes. We have gone beyond mentorship; we have become friends.
Dat: This mentorship program was monumental to my personal and professional development. Not only was it conducive to my goals, but it introduced me to a more detailed, up-to-date roadmap of my career trajectory. I’m incredibly grateful for Andrea and her selflessness. I think I was incredibly lucky to be paired with Andrea, because I certainly wouldn’t be where I am without her. Above all, I’m glad I made a life-long friend. Thanks Andrea!
Tips for mentorship success:
- Have the first meeting in person.
- Meet in a place that is convenient for both – students should not expect their mentor to come to the university or a place near their home.
- Know that you can be completely transparent about yourself to someone who just wants to help you.
- Be open to constructive criticism, and avoid being defensive.
- The mentor’s role is to guide and support, not dictate. You can make suggestions but should not try and impose your views on someone else.
- Mentees need to listen respectfully, weigh their options and then choose their own direction. If they take a wrong step, so what? It’s a learning experience.