I’ve just finished a scheme facilitated by my university which pairs current students with graduates who act as e-mentors (the e meaning electronic just for reference!) I had the best experience with my e-mentor and wanted to write a reflective post about it here and also to promote that if your university offers this kind of thing take advantage!
The purpose of being e-mentored is to give you some insight into your e-mentor’s job, their skills and challenges they’ve faced. They’re also there to provide help with gaining and presenting relevant experience to employers; helping you with your CV, interview tips, and thinking about the kind of work you want to do after graduation.
You have one exchange per week over 10 weeks with your e-mentor. This is usually via email, but I also had a Skype session and I know others had phone calls.
When I signed up to the scheme I had to list some information about myself and what I was looking for and then I was given a list of people to choose from. I’m not sure if I was given all of the people participating in the scheme or just a selection that met the information I’d given about myself.
I was initially a bit disappointed at the lack of e-mentors available who were working in the arts. The university I attend doesn’t provide any art courses, to my knowledge, but I still thought someone would have ventured into museums, galleries, archives or something else in the creative sector. I narrowed my selection down to 5 people and looked at who would be really beneficial for me to speak to. There were a number of librarians I could have selected, but having worked in the field for a while (and being active on Twitter) it didn’t feel like I would get a great deal from someone in my field especially now I’m considering leaving HE/libraries for something else. The e-mentor I decided on was Helen. She worked for a company specialising in how people see and use data. I was really excited as there was a creative slant (the company make infographics amongst other things) as well as a data slant too. I’d just been making infographics for one of my modules and Helen seemed like the perfect fit.
About my e-mentor
Helen’s role at the company she worked for was project manager. Again this is another area of work I’ve been looking into recently. Especially as I’v previously, and kind of currently, been part of multiple new library system implementations and projects.
Helen studied a BA(Hons) in English Literature and worked her way into a position as a Web Production Assistant and later content and project management roles. It was inspiring to hear Helen’s career history and her moving into a completely different field compared to what her degree was in.
What did I want from my e-mentor?
Helen asked me what I wanted to gain from our interactions. I didn’t realise until later on, but Helen has been an e-mentor for a number of years. I found this really helpful as I got stuck at times with what to do next and how to plan our time. So I mentioned I was really interested in finding out about a different sector I could potentially work in and making myself, and my skills, as transferable as possible.
Helen wanted to know more about librarianship and why I’d chosen it. I explained I fell into it after my BA, enjoyed the work I had done and had realised after working in it for a while that some kind of further qualification was needed for me to progress. I also told Helen about the modules I’d studied and some of the jobs I’d had previously as there are still more stereotypical library roles and other less known areas that I’d worked in where I never see or touch a book! Explaining the skills I already had to Helen gave her a basis of what we could do next.
Figuring out a plan
Helen helped me make a plan of what I wanted to do over the next few weeks. This included:
1. Analysing my CV for weaknesses/skills gaps
(action: to look at online training, areas to research, etc.)
2. Check in on my online presence
(action: check my LinkedIn is up to date, edit my blog, twitter, etc.)
3. Create a digitally focused CV (based on feedback from point 1.)
4. Search for job opportunities I like the sound of, save the documents and review my skills against each job
5. Look at courses on Code Academy
6. Think what skills I have, what I do and don’t enjoy
(to help me focus on what I want to do next)
Then we had some future goals to look at cover letters and supporting statements, interviews and techniques, and company cultures and organisational structures.
We had a few back and forth emails where Helen answered my questions about her employment history and told me about how she’d got into the world of digital work and project management. She also told me about all the different roles she had had and companies she’d enjoyed working for that had similar values to her own.
Helen has inspired me to try and work in a different field as her career history was so varied and interesting. I’m also going to attempt to take a more proactive approach in finding a company or institution with similar values to my own. Helen mentioned working for the Guardian at one point and how at the time it was such a good fit for her because of their ethos.
Nest Helen looked over one of my CVs as part of our plan. I’m pretty bad at having good up to date general CVs as I find them so hard to write and I’ve had so many different jobs that unless I know what I’m applying to, and can tailor it to that, I find it really difficult!
Helen gave me great feedback stating I had a good amount of experience. She helped me reformat the structure and a few tips on the content too. I find structuring CVs, again, pretty tough. Do they want to know about my qualifications first or my experience? What if I can’t put all my jobs on my CV? I don’t want people to think I have gaps (even though gaps really shouldn’t be that bad!) Helen also got me to draw out project work I’d been involved in and what I liked about it. And to also include examples or demonstrate how specific tasks boosted my skill set.
I also explained to Helen that with the majority of HE applications, or at least ones I’ve done, you have to do a very long winded application that often includes stating your GCSEs (or I do as I’m always worried if I don’t mention them someone will think I don’t have them!) and you often have to list your entire work history and complete a 10 point or more person specification. I think HE applications are pretty different from a lot of other sectors, which maybe keep it brief, or take you through different questions in their own online forms.
Helen had booked a once in a lifetime trip that took place throughout March (sort of in the middle of our 10 weeks). She kindly offered me the choice to continue talking to her through her trip or pause our sessions. For a number of reasons we took a break, mainly because for a once in a lifetime trip you don’t want to be having to give careers advice! (even though Helen was lovely and definitely up for this I thought it would be way better to have a break so Helen could enjoy her trip) And this also gave me a chance to work on some things given to me by Helen. On top of this I had a lot of work on the go, including assignments, and my multiple jobs!
I also had a mini trip booked to Scotland and Helen was super flexible over times we emailed and chatted, which was great!
What did I do on the break?
I took Helen up on her advice of completing some modules from Code Academy. I could not recommend them more. They’re free to do and I found them really accessible and easy to understand (I’ve never thought I was very good at tech – even though lots of my jobs have been helping sort out problems with e-books and e-resources, using databases, using Moodle and other virtual online learning software!)
I looked at Code Foundations and SQL. Code Foundations was good for the basics and taught me a lot about lots of different kinds of code and I picked SQL because I keep seeing data jobs come up which require you to know SQL.
I’ve realised this might sound a bit weird for me to learn about code! Basically I asked Helen if in her role as Project Manager at the data visualisation company how much knowledge she needed of all the different areas (she worked with animators too to help visualise the data in fun and accessible ways). Helen stated she didn’t need to know everything in depth, but obviously her previous roles designing websites and using code etc. came in handy.
I also found that studying the Code Academy modules showed a lot of links with my Librarianship course. I’d known about Boolean searching before my course and had used it in our Information Literacy module, but I didn’t realised how many coding languages use the same AND, NOT and OR. There’s also coding, which uses ‘true’ and ‘false’ statements as well as greater than and less than. All my librarianship knowledge and Excel knowledge of formulas was coming into play with Code Academy so everything I was learning didn’t feel brand new.
I re-did my blog too and made a skills section and changed the landing page to the ‘about me‘ page. Helen had a website about herself, listing her skills and jobs etc. Even though using WordPress isn’t exactly coding it is using software to edit and change pages around and change the front facing display. So all good practice and experience for me.
After the break
Once Helen had come back from her trip she contacted me and I updated her with my progress. I honestly didn’t complete everything on the list and told Helen this! I was a bit worried as I felt like I’d failed, but Helen made me feel so at ease about talking over what I had done and how I’d managed my time with work, studying and my assignments.
Where I failed hardest was trying to find digitally focused jobs I wanted. The only one I found and really wanted to apply for was a position at the Joseph Rountree Foundation in York. There were loads points of the job spec that put me off though as you need so much digital experience for some jobs, even what feel like entry level roles, so I was a little put off by my lack of experience!
Also during this time a dream job came up for me, which I told Helen about and why my time had been even more stretched as I’d started the application for this. I sent Helen the personal statement I’d started for the dream job to show that I’d actually been doing something useful more than anything else, but Helen agreed to read over it and give me some pointers, which were all really useful and I’m going to take forward into future applications.
We had one Skype call, which was great. I think any more would have potentially been hard for myself and Helen to both schedule into our busy lives and Skype always goes wrong in someway for me! Which it did when trying to ring Helen.
Oh and top tip! Make sure your room is well lit! I left my lamps on in my living room and the glare from my computer definitely made me look ghostly, but it was too awkward and embarrassing for me to just turn on the light half way through our conversation!
We had a great chat though and talked over my application for the dream job. We reformatted sections and changed things so the flow worked better. Helen gave me so much useful information and my application was much better after her input. It was also really nice to see and speak to her in person!
Helen gave me so much advice over the course of the 10 weeks on everything from job applications, to CVs, to interview techniques. She helped me write more assertively and positively about my experiences and helped me put a spin on things that have went wrong in jobs like highlighting my problem solving capabilities and using my initiative rather than focusing on the negatives. Also things like expanding on using trial and error examples where I’d made things more efficient in the workplace. Helen sent me a number of documents ranging from examples of her own CVs, her own website, to interview tips. Helen even asked colleagues at her work for tips on presentations in interviews too.
One of the things I liked most about Helen, and one of her main strengths I thought, was adapting her knowledge to fields I was interested in and other areas of librarianship. She helped me work on a previous presentation for a library job showing me how to really cut down text on slides to the basics.
Helen also mentioned to me something new I’ve started doing when applying for jobs is I list my own key words I need to mention in each area of a person specification. Helen hadn’t seen this before and thought it was part of the job application, but I explained I added them to kind of tick them off so hopefully employers would also see these key words and I’d hit the right tone. Helen mentioned that this was a good technique that she might use in the future too!
Before I published this post I checked with Helen that this all looked accurate and she gave me some kind words of the things I’d achieved throughout this process: “you were very receptive to tasks and you asked lots of questions so that you could learn more, you made the most of the time that we had. Together I think we both learnt a lot and it has been a great experience.”
Helen was a fantastic e-mentor and really made me think about other areas I could go into. I definitely benefited by speaking to someone who wasn’t in the sector I was currently working in. I’ve always found it hard to know what jobs are out there, what exists and how to get these kind of jobs. I feel like certain jobs are kind of secret and there’s secret knowledge I just can’t get to sometimes. I don’t think I would have come across a Project Manager for a Data Visualisation company in any way other than this. And in terms of what I’ve learnt for the future I feel more confident putting together CVs, and what information goes where, as well as how to write more confidently.
If you’re still studying or going to start some kind of librarianship course in the autumn definitely check if your university offer this kind of thing as I found it really helpful.