Government Communications Service
Mentoring is rewarding
Blog posted by: Ellie Harte, Head of Communications and Engagement at the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, 16 September 2020.
If you’re looking to develop your leadership skills, boost your knowledge of government communications, and give something back to the GCS community, becoming a mentor is a great way to achieve all this and more.
For me, signing up to be a mentor last year has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done during my time in the civil service – but if you’re not sure if it’s for you (it is!) here are some tips to help you make the most of the experience.
1) You may be outside your comfort zone – but that’s a good thing
When GCS first sent me the details of one of the mentees I’d been matched with, I wasn’t sure I was the best person for the job. They worked in a very different comms discipline to me – one I didn’t have a huge amount of direct experience in – and I was worried I wouldn’t know how to support them. Actually, our differences turned out to be one of the strengths of our mentoring partnership because I was able to bring a fresh perspective and my own experience to some of the issues we discussed. In turn, I got some valuable new insights from my mentee about how they and their organisation approach communications challenges. Mentoring is as much a learning experience for the mentor as it is for the mentee.
2) Agree from the start what you want to achieve
As government communicators, we’re all skilled at setting objectives – and mentoring should be no exception to this. GCS has a very helpful mentoring handbook that includes guidance on how to agree aims and objectives with your mentee, and I really recommend spending your first mentoring meeting working through this. Getting a clear idea of your mentee’s priorities – whether they’re looking for advice on how to take the next step in their career or support with their existing role – will give a solid focus and a clear ‘end point’ to your regular catch-ups. In my case, it meant that six months later, with my mentee newly-promoted and thriving in a different role, we could go our separate ways, confident that we’d achieved what we’d set out to do.
3) You’ll probably cover a lot of ground – which will help sharpen your own knowledge
During my six months of mentoring, I found myself giving advice on everything from line management, interpersonal skills, pitching new ideas and bringing the rest of the team with you, managing upwards effectively, job applications, recruitment and secondments, networking, and the various MCOM disciplines. It made our sessions challenging and interesting, and we both regularly delved into the GCS website looking for resources to support our discussions (tip: the GCS career framework is particularly helpful). It also encouraged me to reflect on how to apply my advice to my own job, and I think it made me a better, more proactive manager as a result.
4) But it doesn’t require a significant time commitment
My biggest concern before signing up for mentoring was whether I’d have the time to do it properly, but I found ultimately that the benefits of mentoring far outweighed the small demands it made on my time. You’ll need to agree with your mentee a pattern that works for you both, but in our case, after our first face-to-face meeting in a coffee shop (this was before lockdown), we settled into a pattern of hour-long phone calls every six to eight weeks or so, and this worked well. Quality over quantity.
5) Above all, embrace the opportunity to help shape the up-and-coming generation of communicators
Whether you have decades of experience and wisdom to bestow, or just a couple of years, mentoring is a great opportunity to connect with, help, develop, and learn from up-and-coming GCS communicators. Although my most recent mentoring partnership has come to an end, I’m looking forward to staying in touch with my former mentee and watching them progress, and I’ve no doubt our paths will cross again in future. Overall, becoming a mentor has been a really positive, rewarding experience, and I would encourage anyone in GCS to sign up. The process doesn’t take long – the current shortage of mentors means I was matched within a few weeks of applying – and I promise you’ll find it’s worth it.
Apply to be a mentor on the GCS Mentoring Programme here.
(The form is password protected: ask the development adviser in your department for the GCS password or contact GCSMentoringProgramme@cabinetoffice.gov.uk)
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