Money & Business

Case Study: Virtual Mentoring Using LinkedIn

By / Oct 3, 2013 (iStock/Thinkstock)

How one association delved into the world of e-mentoring to offer its members an accessible and flexible career-management program.

Nowadays you can pay your bills, buy your groceries, get a degree, and even see a therapist online. So, it’s no wonder that mentoring can also now be done digitally.

Electronic mentoring is a trend growing in the education industry, and several associations such as the Society of Petroleum Engineers and the American Society for Civil Engineers offer virtual mentoring programs to connect their members.

The CFA Society Chicago also turned to e-mentoring a little less than a year ago when its career-management advisory group wanted to develop a mentor program for members. While researching how technology could help the organization create a more manageable and accessible program, Virginia Petrancosta, the organization’s director of communications and development, discovered that some organizations were taking advantage of a popular social networking site.

The mentors like it because it gives them a lot of control, and the mentees like it because it’s a quick path to finding a match for what they need at that time.

“I found other institutions that were using LinkedIn as the platform that gives both the mentors and the mentees the most control over the relationship that they would hopefully develop,” she said.

So, CFA Chicago created a sub-group on its members-only LinkedIn page—which has about 2,000 group members—specifically dedicated to matching members. Within the sub-group, members interested in being mentors can create discussions describing their professional experience and ideal mentor/mentee relationship. “It may say something like, ‘investment professional with 15 plus years, interested in email mentorship, face-to-face meetings, mornings, in the city,’” Petrancosta said.

Mentees can then go through the discussions and email the person whom they’d like to approach as their potential mentor. This process fits the trend Petrancosta found in her research of allowing mentees to self-select their mentors.

“When I did some best practices with Marquette University’s alumni team, the feedback that I got was, for the millennial group of mentees who they are dealing with at the school, they wanted to find the quickest and easiest way to find a mentor and not wait through a traditional mentoring program where someone else is making the match for them based on a predefined set of five or 10 questions,” Petrancosta said.

This particular approach also allows people to select mentors based on criteria outside of career paths or the organizations they work for, which might not be considered in a more formal selection process. For example, mentees can choose a mentor because they went to the same university or they volunteer at the same organization.

So far, CFA Chicago has had 156 members sign up for the e-mentoring program, and Petrancosta estimates there have been about 30 matches made and a wide range of interactions from a series of emails to meeting for coffee. The organization plans to send out a survey to participants once the relationships have had time to mature.

Like any mentoring program, there are challenges in getting the word out or bringing awareness to the program, Petrancosta said, and because they’re using an external platform, CFA Chicago doesn’t have complete control of the program in terms of formatting and organizing content. But some of the mentors have told Petrancosta they like the degree of flexibility they get in controlling how much they work with a mentee. “The mentors like it because it gives them a lot of control, and the mentees like it because it’s a quick path to finding a match for what they need at that time,” Petrancosta said.

One thing to keep in mind when using an online platform like LinkedIn is the degree to which members are already active on the site.

“Something to consider is doing a little research to determine if your members have strong professional LinkedIn profiles to begin with because that is really the basis for how a mentee is going to select that mentor—they’re going to review that profile” Petrancosta said. “So, in a profession where the LinkedIn profiles are robust, that makes it much easier to launch the program.”

Petrancosta also advised creating a set of guidelines or parameters around how the mentor/mentee relationship should work. Guidelines can encourage mentors and mentees to establish goals for what they want to get out of the relationship, provide a template for mentees to use when virtually approaching a mentor, and suggested topics to discuss during meetings.

Have you tried an e-mentoring program? What were some of the benefits and challenges? Let us know in the comments.

Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. More »

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