As I walked on to Cisco’s Raleigh, North Carolina (RTP) campus for the very first time I realized I was officially in the real world – joining the Customer Experience team as a Project Manager (PM) would be the first “real job” of my professional career.
It was just two short months after I had graduated from North Carolina State University with a Bachelor’s in English, and while I was excited, filled with hope, and ready to take on anything – I also had way too many questions: What if I mess up? How do I even do my new job? What if they think I’m terrible and they change their mind?
We have all been in those shoes before – whether it’s a first job out of college or being new to a role in general. It’s human to have questions, worries, and fears.
Luckily, when I joined my team, I was given the ultimate tool of success: I was assigned a mentor. But not just any mentor, I was assigned a mentor who understood the importance of their role in the development of my career at Cisco.
What makes someone a good mentor? From my experience, here are a few things that have impacted me the most in my mentorship:
1. Someone who not only teaches, but who challenges you to step out of your comfort zone.
On my first day with my mentor, she didn’t simply give me a guide labeled “How to Be a Project Manager 101” – but she didn’t “throw me to the sharks”, either. Instead, she took the time to show me how she does things, and offered her advice on how to take on my new role as a PM. She doesn’t simply throw information at me – she shows me how to do something, then let’s me practice on my own. This is the most valuable thing she has done for me so far.
It is one thing to have someone teach you how to do each aspect of your role, but what is more important and useful is when a mentor let’s their mentee “spread their own wings,” as my mentor likes to say.
2. Someone who shows enthusiasm in the investment of you and your success.
It is pretty obvious when someone is not interested in what they are doing, and it can often be obvious if your mentor isn’t invested in your success. When you have a good mentor, their enthusiasm about their role as a teach and role model for you will show. It should be apparent that your mentor has a desire to help you, and is excited about seeing you be successful.
Whether it be a small or large victory, my mentor always expresses her excitement for my successes.
3. Someone that creates an environment that makes you feel supported, comfortable, and able to share.
I think all of us can relate to the phrase, “This might be a stupid question, but…”. When I first joined Cisco, I was full of questions. And yes, some of them were simple and easy questions. But the truth is that I did not know the answer and that was okay.
My mentor helped me come to this realization through the environment she created for me while I work with her. Quickly I shed the preface of “this may be a stupid/dumb/silly question” before I asked her something. I stopped apologizing for asking her the questions I had. This is because she provided an environment where I felt as though I could go to her with my questions. Not only that, but I found myself in an environment where I could voice my worries, fears, or concerns openly, and I was consistently met with support.
4. Someone that encourages the inclusion of outside interests and the use of creativity in the work place.
“Your first assignment: Go to Burning Man,” my mentor told me in our first meeting. She constantly promotes the value of my unique talents and interests, and points me in the direction of ways I can use my talents and interests while at Cisco. And through her encouragement, I have learned that Cisco has endless opportunities to engage your passions while at work.
For example, I was an English major in college, and writing happens to be a passion of mine. My mentor encouraged me to find ways to engage my love for writing while at Cisco – and here I am!
5. Someone who takes the time to understand YOU and your unique style.
When I first started my role, my mentor took the time to ask me about my personal style of learning. She took the time to ask me the best way for me to learn and let me know to tell her if something was not working so that she could adapt her teaching techniques to fit my needs. Your mentor should help lay the foundations to a version of you that is successful in your role, and not try to mold you into another version of themselves.
Yes, in reality, anyone who is willing can step up and take on the title of a mentor. But there is a difference between being simply a teacher and being a role model.
Being able to work with a mentor who possesses each of the qualities above has allowed me to grow my knowledge exponentially, develop confidence in my role, and has fostered excitement in being part of the Cisco Team.
It has been proof that Cisco’s culture matters, and the growth of our employees matters. We have each other’s backs and are supportive of one another. The experience and relationship I have built with my mentor has put me on the path of success as I start my professional career at Cisco.
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Emily…being your mentor is one of the absolute most beautiful gifts in my life. We grow from each other. I’m shedding a zillion tears reading this and so moved reading these words. I love you, I am by your side at Cisco and beyond (including Burning Man). You are smart and will conquer the world and I am happy to give you any ladders I can hand you.
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