Recently, I wrote a post titled “This is Why You Should Consider Finding Yourself a Mentor,” where I talked about my experience as a mentee.
I’ll just say that the program—for those who may not read my post—was a strategy I used to fast-forward my career in translation. Now, after a year into it, I could not recommend it more enthusiastically to someone starting off as a translator or to someone who believes they could learn from another experienced colleague. It might be a desire to explore another specialization or adding a new service, such as interpretation, transcription, etc. You don’t have to be a newbie to enter the mentoring program and deeply benefit from it.
I believe the key to a successful relationship and to getting the most from this experience is to find a good fit. To me, the mentor had to be someone I looked up to, someone who made me think “I want to be like him/her when I grow up.” In the case of my mentor, I knew her from her blog and noticed we share values and viewpoints.
Secondly, mentor and mentee should share at least one area of interest. I wanted to specialize in legal translation, and she is an established legal translator and lawyer-linguist.
Most times, mentor and mentee work with different language pairs, which I think is a good idea. Working in another language pair puts aside any concern, from the mentor’s side, that the mentee might have a hidden agenda (like hoping the mentor will find the mentee some clients). The same goes for the mentee: having that out of the way gave me peace of mind that my mentor would not worry about this (especially since I came out of nowhere!).
The ATA website has a section for the Mentoring Program. It has a free webinar available there too.
The program runs from April to March of the following year. However, I started my program informally right after 2015’s ATA conference, when I met my mentor in person and invited her to embark on this journey with me.
One of the good things about the program is that it does not over-regulate the mentor/mentee relationship. ATA just sets the general rules and the pairs go from there and decide how they are going to make it work. My mentor and I, for instance, decided on monthly one-hour Skype meetings (which many times would last more than that). I have a spreadsheet where I write my questions as soon as they pop in my mind. When we meet, I write down her answers for future reference. If some urgent question or matter arises, I email or message her in-between meetings, and she always answers as soon as she can.
As for how I benefit from the mentoring, the list is long. I will offer a summary of what I wrote in the post mentioned above:
It helps me recognize my strengths, qualities, and qualifications. I tend to be very critical of myself and could not see many of the good traits I already had. Therefore, I could not sell my services with confidence. Now I can.
It also helps me identify areas for improvement, equally invaluable.
My mentor helps me tremendously with marketing strategies, from résumé-building to many tips and advice on how to better my business.
She helps me in finding my niche and shows me different ways of pursuing/advancing my specialization.
The program is a commitment, so it makes me feel accountable. I am on the receiving end of the relationship and I could not, would not, make my mentor waste time. I need to show my work.
It’s a source of inspiration, as my mentor’s professional path reminds me that successful stories usually take time to happen.
As for the benefits on the mentor’s side, my mentor tells me my questions make her think about things she never stopped to think about or, even better, make her reevaluate some long-held ideas. Well, at least that’s what she says. I still think that her answer is another display of generosity shared by all mentors, aside from all the time they spend helping their mentees achieve their goals.
Another important point is that the mentee should not expect to become a sort of an intern for the mentor. A mentor should be a tutor, a guide, a counselor; not an agency or employer. There’s this post on LinkedIn where the author discusses the issue from the mentor’s perspective, which also helps the prospective mentee to get his/her expectations right.
I am glad I decided to ask Paula Arturo to be my mentor and had the guts to do it. I hope someday to be able to give back and pay forward.
PS: Thanks to Catherine V. Howard, for revising this text, and for being, so generously and patiently, an informal mentor to me.
ANA GAUZ, born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is a legal translator. In 2009, she moved to New Jersey, US. She has a law degree from Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and a certificate in translation (English into Portuguese) from New York University.