4 Steps to a Functional Mentorship for Language Professionals

Photo by Billy Pasco
Throughout my translation and interpreting career, I have had a number of mentors, both formal and informal who have helped me develop and grow as a professional. Recently, I was approached by an interpreter seeking my mentorship and guidance as she makes a significant transition in her professional journey, and it made me reflect on my personal journey and my best mentorship experiences.

Step 1: Research 

One of the many reasons to seek out a mentor is for functional mentorship or get guidance and direction to acquire a specific skill or accomplish a specific goal. In my experience, as the mentee, it is important that we do some research and have, at least, a general idea of what we want to do and who can help us accomplish it. I do not have any regrets because my professional journey has helped me develop and grow, but had I done some research, my path may have been less bumpy and windy. Early in my career, I was unsure of what direction I wanted to head, I had discovered the translation and interpreting sector, were I could apply my love for language and culture, but I did not fully understand how to get started. Unfortunately, my lack of knowledge put me on the wrong path more than once. First, I did not know the difference between the various language related professions and I selected the wrong mentor, requested assistance making a career move I did not intend to make, and ended up starting my career as a Cryptologic Linguist, which was not at all what I wanted to do. 

As a mentee, it is important that you research the skill you want to develop or goal you intend to accomplish. Mentors, should also question their potential mentee and confirm their starting knowledge and skills; do not let a mentee work towards a goal unless they fully understand what they are seeking out to accomplish. 

Step 2: Set SMART goals

For a mentorship program to be successful, you must identify a specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based (SMART) goal. This is definitely something the mentee and mentor can collaborate on, but the result or outcome of the mentorship should definitely come from the mentee.  

Before formalizing the mentorship program, the mentee and mentor should discuss any research they have completed and the specific desired outcome. When I made the transition from education to healthcare as a translator/interpreter, my mentor helped me center on a very specific goal where success could be easily measured, one that was attainable and relevant to my desire to expand into the healthcare sector, and we set a schedule with an end date. Together, we decided that I would pursue national certification as a healthcare interpreter and gave ourselves what we considered an appropriate time frame to accomplish the goal. Once that goal was accomplished, we set a new specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based goal.

Step 3: Focus

Have you ever heard of biting off more than you can chew? It can often be tempting to want to take on more and more, especially if things seem to be progressing well. However, it is both the mentor and the mentee's responsibility to ensure that there is focus. Instead of setting a huge long-term goal, consider analyzing the long-term goal and identifying milestones or benchmark goals that will lead the mentee to accomplishing the long-term goal. Then tackle each milestone or benchmark goal one at a time. 

Step 4: Be confident

It may seem counter intuitive because you have to be humble enough to identify a weakness or gap, however, confidence is key to a successful mentorship program. If the mentee and mentor do not think the goal can be accomplished, it will be impossible to accomplish.  

I did not always have the good fortune of believing in my ability to achieve a desired outcome or of counting on a mentor who believed I could accomplish what I had set my mind on. Not too long ago, I decided to return to school to complete a demanding and highly prestigious graduate program. The already difficult task seemed evermore overwhelming because I continuously focused on what I considered an ocean of shortcomings. Not only that, but I felt as though some of my mentors also felt I was not up for the task. Halfway through the program, I had the good fortune of meeting a fantastic mentor who believed in my ability to accomplish my goal. Her guidance helped me build the confidence I  needed to successfully complete the program and accomplish my goal.

A functional mentorship can be a great way for language professionals (interpreters, translators, linguists, etc.) to develop or enhance a specific skill or accomplish a career goal, however, to ensure the success of the program, the mentee and mentor should ensure the mentee has a clear understanding of what they are looking to accomplish, collaborate to set SMART goals, focus on accomplishing a single milestone at one time, and are both confident in the success of the mentorship. 

Are there other steps you would recommend? Have you had a positive mentorship experience you would like to share? Please share in the comments section below.