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Social Capital: Tips for Informal Mentoring at the 2023 SIOP Annual Conference

Submitted by Rik Nemanick, PhD, SIOP Career and Professional Development for Practitioners Committee

One of the best ways to develop professionally is through the guidance of an experienced mentor. Navigating a successful and rewarding career as an I-O psychology professional involves skills that go well beyond what is taught in graduate school. I found my way into the field from my own mentor, Dr. Marvin McMillan, an I-O psychologist who was the VP of HR at my first employer after college. He was a guide and role model who inspired me and helped me find a path into our field.

The SIOP Annual Conference can be a great place for mentoring. Every year, the conference brings together thousands of people working in I-O psychology and related fields with wide varieties of backgrounds and experience. While formal mentoring programs like the SIOP Practitioner Mentoring Program and SIOP Committee on Ethnic and Minority Affairs (CEMA) Mentoring Program can jump start mentoring, informal mentoring can be just as powerful if one is open to it. Below are some of my tips for both those who are seeking mentoring as well as those who might provide mentoring to others.

For those seeking mentoring:

  1. Before you go to the 2023 SIOP Annual Conference, reflect on where you are professionally and what you would like to learn more about. Are you a student who is contemplating your entry into the field? Or are you an early career professional who is considering the next steps in your career? While mentors can be tremendous sources of wisdom, they can only help if you know what you want to achieve. Take 30 minutes to reflect on where you are with your career, where you would like to be in 3 years, and what you would want to learn to make your envisioned future a reality. Come to the conference with that learning mindset.
  2. Look for opportunities to connect with former bosses, colleagues, or professors. It is far easier to re-establish a relationship that has atrophied than to establish a new one. When you run into one of them and they ask you, “What have you been up to?”, you can say, “I’m actually thinking about my career. Would you want to grab a cup of coffee between sessions and I can catch you up?”
  3. Make new connections while attending presentations. Talk to a speaker or someone presenting a poster on a topic that interests you. Or, you could talk to someone sitting next to you at a symposium. You would be surprised how many seasoned professionals would be open to a conversation. Look to meet at least five people and ask them about their work. Collect business cards or connect on LinkedIn.
  4. Follow up with everyone you meet (existing and new contacts) after the conference. Tell them it was great to connect (or reconnect) and see if they would want to set up a 30-minute Zoom call. If your first note doesn’t get a response after two weeks, send one follow-up (people are busy and have full inboxes). If you get no response, it is probably best to let that connection drop. If you reach out to enough people, you will find a few that will be willing to connect.

You can get more out of “informal” mentoring with a little preparation and proactivity.

For those who might offer mentoring, the same advice works in reverse:

  1. Be available and open to re-connecting with former students or colleagues as well as meeting new people. Go to the poster sessions and talk to some of the younger presenters, asking them about their work. If someone asks you to extend a conversation over coffee, say “yes”.
  2. Invite people to connect if you are open to it. You don’t have to add everyone you meet to your LinkedIn connections, but lower the threshold for making the connection.
  3. Be generous with follow-up requests. Don’t ignore people you meet at the conference when they reach out. Most of us can make time for a 15 or 30-minute Zoom call. If you truly don’t have time or if you didn’t find you had enough in common with the person who is reaching out, respond with a polite decline: “I appreciate you reaching out. My workload is such that I don’t think I can be available for a call.”

We all share an amazing profession. SIOP is stronger when we participate and build the collective “social capital” of the organization. Mentoring can be a great way to build connections and further the careers of our colleagues.

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