Back to some business – mentoring a student at the verge of work life

Recently I have signed up with the alumni organisation of “my” university to participate in their mentoring program for students at the verge of work life. Mentoring – I have done that before and my former mentee is now a good friend of mine.

Let me reflect about what mentoring is and what an effective approach may look like.


What is mentoring?

In the Internet I found this definition of the Alberta Learning Information Service ALIS that resonates with me:

«Mentors are experienced, trusted advisors or counsellors who have successful careers and proven track records. Mentors are not usually paid for their services.

As a mentor, your role will be to:

  • make a commitment to support and encourage your mentee
  • encourage your mentee to develop careers that reflect their skills, potential and goals
  • offer wisdom, knowledge, experience, constructive criticism, connections and resources
  • focus on the overall career directions like advancement and training rather than on day-to-day concerns of your mentee
  • set an example for the level of professional conduct and success your mentee hopes to achieve»

In alignment with this definition and with my previous mentoring experience I understand that…

  • The mentor accompanies the overall career development of his mentee in a one to one setup independent of the current work place. He acts as a sparring partner bringing in his long year experience, with the target to help the mentee find a career path that matches his/her strengths and interests. The relationship is based on mutual trust and confidentiality. The time horizon is longer term and can be several years.
  • Mentoring is different from coaching. I understand that a coach accompanies an employee at his/her work place – to perform efficiently and effectively according to his potential.


How would I conceive our mentoring process to be effective?

To mentor a student at the verge of work life, I think of these steps for the process to be satisfactory and effective. 

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  • Basis: Initiative is with Mentee / Mentor is a responsive sparring partner
    From the mentee, I expect that he/she will drive the relationship, invite for meetings and/or ask for support, when he is ready or needs it. As a mentor, I will be the responsive (reachable) and  supportive sparring partner bringing in my experience and network. The mentee has to solve his “problem” and he can count on my mentor support. As a mentor, I cannot impose my ideas, I just give suggestions, hopefully good suggestions based on my experience.
  • Align mentor and mentee / revise relation: Trust and commitment
    As a first step, we, the mentor and the mentee will get to know one another, exchange about our motivations and backgrounds and find alignment. The target is to build trust. Trust is indispensable for our mentor/mentee relationship. Without trust it is not possible to proceed and achieve results. Based on trust, we make the commitment to start our mentor/mentee relationship. This relationship is not expected to be short term, and hence it is also necessary to revise it from time to time to verify trust and commitment still exist.
  • Identify mentee strengths/interests/personality: Profile
    As a second step, the mentee will identify his profile, with my mentor support. The profile consists out of his strengths (capabilities/talents/knowledge), his personality (e.g. more a researcher or an entrepreneur) and his interests (what activities turn me on). Useful structures to identify the profile are provided by Tim Clark, Alexander Osterwald and Yves Pingeur: “Business Model You“, Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2012). They call it “key resources”.
  • Find targets: Value propositions
    Based on the profile or key resources, the next step is to find the activities that are of value for potential customers and that allow my mentee to make a living (earn money) and perhaps harness more personal benefits (such as satisfaction from living his mission or from doing what he likes to do). Tim Clark et alii recommend to find the “value propositions” using their structured “business canvas“.
  • Sell and apply: CVs, job selection > job
    Based on the profile and targets identified, we can act and apply for jobs. The profile will be phrased out in CVs (for media such as LinkedIn and for the “paper” CV that  might need adaption for individual applications. As a mentor, I also think of using my network and of coaching the interview process (letter of motivation, what the interviewer may ask/expect or ideas on how to react when being rejected). 
  • Digest lessons: Updated profiles, value propositions and CVs
    The experience gained during job applications will help us to loop back and update the profile and value proposition and the CVs (in the media (such as LinkedIn) and in the paper CV. Then more applications may follow – or it is also an alternative to look for options to open a business.
  • Hand over to work life: Business mentor
    Once, a job is found, I will have to retreat. I suggest to find a business mentor for similar support in the new work life. Well, in case our mentor/mentee relation was one of trust all the way through, I might have found another friend that would perhaps come back and ask for ideas and support from time to time.






Consult & engage: Getting started with my own company

Do you feel like work after your retirement?

This is an email that I received from Thomas: “Do you feel like work after your retirement? I have a small task for you…. it is about optimizing the service desk in my company.” Oh yes, I do feel like work after my retirement. I have managed several service desks in my work life, I love to work with teams and find new ways of doing things. In addition I have known Thomas for more than twenty years. This is a wonderful opportunity.

We start the journey. With his teams, we develop a SWOT and we derive five actions in a two hour workshop, reviewing the process over a Gugi with coffee. I am confident that this service desk will end up being even more beneficial for the company of Thomas. And I will continue to engage to facilitate change, as much as I am asked for.

Have you read my mind? – I have always dreamt of founding my own company…

Thomas’ assignment came in well. I have always dreamt of founding my own company. At work I had loved to provide our research service as an enterprise within the enterprise – with our young team in Kraków. As a farewell for my retirement, the team gave me the book “Business Model You” by Tim Clark, Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur (campus 2012).

Yes, why not live my dream now?

Conceiving my company: What values do resonate with clients – and can I deliver?

This is the name of my new company: “consult & engage” (to conform to the legal requirements for registering a one man firm in Switzerland, the name has to be “Petra Peters Erb consult & engage”).

This is my value statement for consult & engage:

  • Find a facilitator for change and innovation
  • … leveraging my experience as a retired baby boomer,
  • … benefiting from my motivation to engage beyond consulting.

And this is where I can deliver:

  • Interests: Achieve results with teams of differing backgrounds. Have an open mind, discover new ground, analyze it, structure it, derive actions, engage to make things happen. (My blogs about traveling may illustrate my interest to discover, understand, structure and share).
  • Personality: Intrinsically self motivated and interested. I love to bring my “I” into teams and to support them achieving results.
  • Experience: Service management/operations (for IT and broader research service), sourcing and contract management, project management, agile management and development of international teams, business process management and managing/selling services as an enterprise in the enterprise.

(Basis: “Business Model Canvas” of Alexander Osterwalder  and “Business for You”, Tim Clark et alii).

Illustrating my value proposition with a motto

To illustrate my value proposition, I selected this elephant I came across in the Etosha Park, when traveling with my husband.


This elephant may illustrate walking firmly towards new horizons leaving marks. And, the elephant surprised me. When coming closer to the scrubs, he ran off fast towards his destination proving that elephants are not only firm and solid, but also agile.