Today is International Mentoring Day and to mark the occasion we wanted to pay tribute to all our existing and previous mentors who volunteer their time to provide support and advice to other members through mentoring.
From the feedback of those who have been mentored, we know that they have benefited greatly by the mentoring they received: ‘I’m glad I took part as it’s been really helpful for my career progression’; ‘Great experience and great advice from my mentor’; ‘As a business leader having to make extremely difficult decisions during the pandemic leaning on my very experienced mentor during this stressful period was priceless’; ‘Definitely a massive help having someone to talk to about starting out in the sector’.
Last year, Gemma contacted us to share her experience of being mentored.
I’ve recently completed 5 mentoring sessions with my mentor. The sessions have been extremely useful and I’m really glad I signed up to the scheme. My mentor has been brilliant and has given me feedback on my CV, set up a mock job application/interview, and answered my questions about the sector. My mentor also encouraged me to apply for a seasonal role – I was successfully appointed to the role and I’m now getting some practical ecology experience with a local consultancy.
Gemma is just one of over 300 mentees who are currently registered with the CIEEM Mentoring Platform. All CIEEM Members are able to use the mentoring platform as part of their membership. The platform connects those looking for support (mentee) with a suitable mentor and it has been designed to help you get the best out of a mentoring relationship. From registering and setting up your profile to being matched with a mentee and having your first meeting, you are supported throughout the journey by the various tools and resources within the platform and automatic prompts.
The mentoring platform is only possible due to the support and dedication of our pool of mentors who are CIEEM members and volunteer their time to help others.
At present we have 1 mentor for every 3 mentees so we are keen to encourage more of our members to consider becoming a mentor. If we have more mentors available, then we can offer more mentees, like Gemma, the opportunity to receive valuable support and advice. We are also looking to increase the range of expertise being provided to further develop the support available. This is why we need your support.
As a mentor, you wouldn’t be expected to have all the answers. Instead, you would use your knowledge, perspective, and experience to work with the mentee and act as an impartial sounding board to their ideas. You would then look at the options together and come up with a solution.
You would need to be able to commit time and effort to develop the relationship with a mentee. Other qualities we are looking for are a desire to make a difference, willingness to share experience, the desire to inspire, an approachable manner, good listening, questioning, and feedback skills.
The role of a mentor
A mentor is someone who will encourage and support a person to make the most of their career and develop their personal skills. They do this by providing impartial, non-judgmental guidance and support.
To give you an insight into what it is like being a mentor, we asked some of our mentors to share their experiences with you. We asked each mentor:
- Why did you sign up to become a Mentor?
- What support have you provided?
- How much of your time does being a Mentor take up?
- What do you find most rewarding about the experience?
- Has being a Mentor, taught you anything about yourself?
Dr Sue Christie
I am a retired ecologist, and spent most of my career managing an NGO which was the umbrella body for other NGOs in Northern Ireland. I thought some of my experiences might be useful, so signed up as a mentor. I have had two ‘mentees’, both fairly long term, one still continuing. We meet by Zoom every two weeks for an hour or so, plus I read over and comment on some of her documents, so it takes not a lot more than an hour to an hour and a half every two weeks. It is very rewarding to be able to help people at the early stages of their careers, and when they are having issues with employers or projects they’re working on. I’d heartily recommend it if you have the time, you meet some lovely people!
Kath Thorne, Senior Ecological Consultant within an engineering consultancy.
I mostly work as an Ecological Clerk of Works on construction sites within the UK, I also manage and undertake protected species surveys. I am passionate about ecology and my role and want to help support less experienced ecologists/students reach their goals and start their careers in this field. So far I have mentored one graduate, I supported them by helping them with their CV and cover letters, discussing their goals and creating objectives to help them achieve these goals. Most of their objectives were to gain experience which would enhance their CV. I put one to two hours a week towards mentoring and I find it rewarding seeing how people’s confidence grows and sharing my passion with less experienced ecologists. It has taught me that even providing a little support to less experienced ecologists can really help. And it has resulted in me having to be more organised.
Emma Baker, Consultant Ecologist for a medium-sized ecology consultancy.
Whether a recent graduate or changing careers, it is challenging to know where to start when entering the environmental/ecology sector. I wanted to provide insight and support to make this process easier where I could. Support provided – predominantly answering questions and sharing my own experiences in ecology through Zoom calls. I have also shared resources that myself and colleagues have found useful, as well as reviewed prospective emails and CVs for gaining shadowing experience or job roles. Since May 2020 I have had 11 mentees. It doesn’t take up much time at all, and some mentees need less guidance than others. I have a meeting of around 30 minutes to an hour every two months and usually communicate over email or the CIEEM Mentoring Platform in-between. It is also up to you how many mentees you feel you can help at one time, so you can fit it around your current workload. Most of my mentees have gone on to find the job roles they wanted, and have always been grateful for my help, which is really rewarding! It is also lovely to meet other likeminded people passionate about the natural world. I think when you are comfortable in your job role and familiar with the sector, you forget how you progressed to that point. Sharing my experiences reminds me of things I have achieved so far, and has certainly increased my own confidence as an ecologist.
Richard Jennings, Biodiversity Technical Specialist in the Environment Agency.
I signed up as a mentor to give something back to CIEEM, and offer an opportunity for people who don’t have CIEEM members in their organisations help them with their membership applications. I have provided support to help applicants become either Associate or Full members. We have arranged regular telecoms and gone through one competency until we are both happy that it meets the required criteria and then arranged another telecom to go through the next competency. I ask them to draft some bullet points so we have a framework for discussion. I have found that shorter sessions doing one competency are far better for both mentor and mentee. Being a mentor takes up a short amount of time, probably 15 hours at most, spread over several months before the mentee submits their application. I found that it is very rewarding being able to help mentees with their membership applications, it was someone different to talk to (especially valuable in the various lockdowns) and find out what they did and what they aspired to do in the later careers. Being a mentor has shown that I do have a broad range of knowledge and experience and was able to put it to good use. It also made me become a better listener and try and aim to see something from another person’s perspective. I also found it flattering to be chosen as an external mentor, as I was in the public sector and worked for the Environment Agency.
Mark Lang, Associate Director for Ecology in a large national consultancy.
I signed up as a mentor as I’m quite experienced and think I have advice to offer people – I also used a mentor which was helpful. I have mentored 3 people over the last 2 years – only 2 via CIEEM mentor platform. It doesn’t take up much time – I would guess 1 hour per conversation perhaps 2-3 conversations overall per mentee. What I found most rewarding is the drive and enthusiasm from the mentee – it’s very refreshing and gets you to view your own role and goals. It has taught me a lot about myself – makes me more approachable and much better at communicating. I found this very rewarding both as a mentor and a mentee – was good talking to someone not connected with my organisation about my development aims and goals – they have a detachment which is quite helpful.
Karl Harrison, Senior Ecologist and Director of a small Ecological Consultancy.
Working with casual surveyors and recent graduates in my day to day role, I have always found the early career advice and support to be lacking. When I was in there shoes, I found it very stressful knowing what the future would hold when picking up adhoc volunteering and casual survey work. I hoped I could reassure and support Mentees who are starting out in the industry or are changing careers into it. I was approached by three potential mentees since I engaged with the platform, one of which didn’t respond to my initial emails. The two mentees I did engage with, were both career changers into Ecological Consultancy. Their goals were to secure their first permanent positions in the industry, both started out on temporary contracts and have recently secured permanent jobs they are happy with. As such, the formal mentoring of one mentee has come to an end, but we will keep in contact. We limited contact to a 60-90minute video call (when technology allowed) several times a year. Subjectively very little time, considering that the mentees prepared for the meetings and wrote-up the actions themselves following. I feel that reassuring mentees as to how they were approaching the early stages of their career was the most rewarding, as I could see that they weren’t getting this support from their colleagues. It was especially rewarding to see the enthusiasm coming into the industry from people who have had a career before. It has given further insight into the position of early career ecologists and hopefully I will be able to bear that in mind when working with them in my professional role.
John Box, Retired. Worked for Telford Development Corporation, Natural England, Wardell Armstrong (minerals & mining consultants) and Atkins (international infrastructure consultants)
Why did you sign up to become a Mentor? ‘To see if my experience and knowledge could help others at those times when they felt the need to discuss their careers with someone else. I have mentored 11 CIEEM members over the past two years from a wide variety of backgrounds and membership grades. The support I have provided has been mainly listening to the mentees, but also providing different perspectives and points of view, and on occasion being challenging. The time commitments need to be carefully managed as each conversation with a mentee needs some time to prepare beforehand and time afterwards to make notes and reflect on what might be introduced into the next couple of sessions. I have just returned as an active mentor after a couple of months of being unavailable’. What do you find most rewarding about the experience? ‘Discussing the situations that the mentees are in and seeing how they make changes that they consider to be useful that lead to the end of the mentoring relationship.
Paul Rooney, Head of Geography and Environmental Science at Liverpool Hope University.
Why did you sign up to become a Mentor? ‘To give something back to the profession. To support early career professionals. To invest in the future. I have provided regular zoom meetings with the mentees and maintained e-mail contact. At the meetings the best support I have provided is simply listening. During COVID the Zoom meetings we agreed were for around an hour approximately once a month or as required according to the needs of the mentee. There were some email exchanges between these meetings, again as required. In all it is not very burdensome and it is very rewarding for both parties. The most rewarding aspects I found was to accompany an early career professional and to support them in their growth. It has taught me the value of active listening – that I should talk less and listen more! It has also made me better realise that I actually have a lot of experience to share.
Dr Annie Say
I am nearly fully retired. I was an environmental consultant in two of our own businesses and also in a multinational. I worked across many sectors with a focus on EIA but also on consultation and workshop facilitation. As a Partner and then Director I had a role in people management and development, business development and marketing and sales. I think it is invaluable for young or developing consultants to be able to access a sounding block to help develop ideas and if this is not available in the work scenario or there are sensitivities in the workplace CIEEM is offering that objective support which is great. All through my career I was interested in helping to share experience and help others develop to be good and effective consultants. This was a natural progression after what I had done as a University personal tutor then in work and in running our business – training, individual and group discussions. Investing in others is essential in developing sound consultants and in ensuring delivery of good work. I have only been involved with three mentees from CIEEM (but many others in other parts of my life). Each of the CIEEM mentees has been quite different. One asked for help which I thought others would be better able to provide – detailed survey support – I said if that didn’t work out I would continue to support. Another was quite intensive and included discussions and sharing contacts relevant to an MSc project and then review and comment on various job applications including tailoring CVs. The interactions culminated in suggesting various specific work opportunities one of which was successful. We remain in touch. The most recent one is ongoing. We have discussed what the mentee hopes to achieve and are developing that. I explained where I was in my life and that I didn’t want to hold her back at all if a younger mentor was more appropriate. We are focussing on developing and being a good effective consultant and on the generalities of good EIA. So I would suggest each situation is different which makes it interesting! Different challenges and needs. I think it is important to start being able to offer as much help as is needed. I keep sessions to a maximum of an hour but quite happy to have one each week or with longer gaps as is appropriate at any stage. I love getting to know people and hear about their careers and aspirations. Matching the sessions to try to make a difference is very rewarding. I was lucky enough to have great support in developing my skills as a consultant learning from very sound people. I have seen lots of examples over recent years of what I would say was not such sound consultancy so anything of my experience that can help improve things is good! I feel as though I am giving something back and doing something I believe in. I have always tried to make a positive difference in how work is done and what is achieved and am hugely grateful for all I have learnt from a myriad of clients and colleagues – being able to pass some of this learning on is satisfying and right! I have always believed in the importance of good communication and in listening to different perspectives – talking to someone you don’t know but trying to work out what might be most useful is rewarding if sometimes challenging! Goodness, every day I am learning things from so many people! So yes as a mentor you look at yourself and in reflecting on past personal experiences and in hearing about the experiences of others I realise how fortunate I was to work with so many really good people. I feel privileged to have worked on so many jobs with so many people. Positive feedback from mentees is also really satisfying and in the transition to full retirement (which isn’t that easy) I value the opportunity to do something useful. I think the things I feel are important in life are confirmed in the interactions and I continue to enjoy to listen and reflect on others experiences and dreams!
The length of a mentoring relationship is not set in stone. It can last for several months or it can last for a shorter period as experienced by Jim Philips, Managing Director:
I have only completed one mentoring session, and it involved one meeting. The mentee was a student and the focus of the discussion was on advising them of getting wider voluntary experience to help them get into the job market when they graduate.
One of our most recent mentors is Kate Hunt who is a Principal Ecologist and signed up at the beginning of January to become a mentor.
I signed up as I have worked my way up from graduate/ecologist level in consultancy and worked on a wide variety of projects and for different sized companies from SMEs to multidisciplinaries and feel I have some useful insights and experience I could share. I hope to be able to support an ecologist at the earlier stages of their career through offering support / guidance / discuss ideas and also to gain some experience myself as a mentee in progressing my career towards more line management experience.
Do you think you have what it takes to be our next mentor?
We’re seeking a number of new mentors to join our mentoring platform. If you are feeling inspired and would be willing to share your skills and experience with others, then why not take a look at our Mentoring Platform to discover the support available and how to sign up.
We are looking for mentors from across the UK and also the Republic of Ireland covering a range of specialisms including becoming a Chartered Ecologist, people management, managing work/life balance, project management, business management and more. You can be from any sector including academia, industry, consultancy, local government, NGO. We are also encouraging more of our Fellows and Chartered members to become a mentor.
The CIEEM blog is intended to be a space in which we publish thought-provoking and discussion-stimulating articles. If you’d like to write a blog sharing your own experiences or views, we’d love to hear from you at SophieLowe@cieem.net.