Written By: Jessica Zeratsky, von Briesen & Roper, s.c.
February 9, 2016
In the words of Steven Spielberg, “[t]he delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”
Those words inspired me to volunteer this past November when the United Way's Women’s Leadership teamed with James Madison Academic Campus (JMAC), a United Way Community School Partner, for a morning of mentoring high-school students. The program, "Getting Ready for the Real World Mentoring Series," was designed to engage and provide role models to youth in the Milwaukee community. Volunteers included Women’s Leadership members and professional women who took time out of their busy day to make a difference in the lives of the young women at JMAC. Volunteers were matched one-on-one with students and over the course of three separate sessions, engaged in candid conversations about professionalism, resume building and tips on interviewing.
I was fortunate to volunteer, along with 20 other women at the third session on the topic of “Getting Interview Ready”. I was paired with a sophomore who was noticeably nervous. She initially avoided making eye contact with me and spoke quietly. It took me back to the nerves I had experienced when I was interviewing for my first job. As a young woman still trying to find herself, it is difficult to be confident and easier to be intimidated. However, the more I found myself in those situations, the more confident and comfortable I became. I immediately recognized that this was a unique opportunity for this young woman to start creating herself and to think about the woman that she wants to be in the future.
Despite her nerves, I could see that going through the list of bullet points and mock interview questions provided was not going to be the most effective way to help her. This wasn’t a test where she needed to give me the right answers. She needed to be asked questions that would prompt her to start thinking and feeling confident about herself and her own abilities. Hoping to make her feel more comfortable, I started the discussion by telling her a little bit about myself and how I got to where I am today. I told her about the nerves I used to feel and how I overcame them. I then asked her to tell me a little bit about herself, asking her questions and then very casually inserting into the conversation the more topical points about the “dos” and “don’t’s” of interviewing. By the end of our session she was engaging in conversation with me and speaking more confidently and making more eye contact with me. It was a small spark that I hoped would continue in her!
Thank you United Way and Women’s Leadership members for creating the “Getting Ready for the Real World Mentoring Series” as it turned out to be so much more than that. It was an opportunity for these young women at JMAC and their mentors to really reflect on how they can become confident and productive women in our community.