There are a number of resources available on finding a mentor. A simple Google search will point you in a good direction. Less abundant are personal accounts that describe what that mentorship relationship looks like when actualized - particularly in our profession. As such, we thought some might find value in our thoughts as we reflect on our mentorship relationship over the past year. For formality sake, we are Ann Marie Klotz (said mentor) and Matt Bloomingdale (said mentee).


How did your relationship form?

AMK: We first met as colleagues where I was a Residence Hall Director and Matt was in his graduate program and working as an Assistant Residence Hall Director. I did not supervise him in any capacity, I just always admired his intellect, confidence and follow-through. Despite his penchant for wearing a Nebraska baseball cap, I found him to be mature beyond his years.

Matt: AMK and I worked together at Ball State University while I was starting my graduate work. When I first arrived, I didn’t yet have a supervisor and she was one of the first professionals that I sought advice from until the position was filled. We collaborated on a common reading program she chaired and always appreciated her drive and the high expectations she had for herself and those she worked with.


How was the relationship formalized?

AMK: Matt and I have kept in touch over the years, but a few years ago he asked me to present a program with him at a regional NASPA conference and we realized how complimentary our styles were. We each brought different specific strengths to the table and have always been very honest with each other in terms of feedback.

In 2013, Matt asked if we could formalize our relationship and I asked him a lot of questions to be sure I would be a good fit for him.  I wanted to ensure that I could give him what he was looking for and I also wanted him to understand what my expectations of him would be, too.  These kinds of relationships are reciprocal and we should actually both benefit from our relationship.

Matt: About three and half years ago, AMK called and asked why I wasn’t more involved. I told her I was involved in plenty. She coerced me into applying to be a NASPA KC Representative which required me to attend the NASPA 4E conference. Since I was obligated to attend the conference, I told AMK that she was now obligated to present with me.

One of the things I recognized in working with AMK is that she has several strengths that I think correspond to my areas for growth. There are elements of her professional path that mimic future steps in my professional path. It is nice asking advice of someone who has recently experienced what I am now experiencing. This does not mean I always take her advice - but it is certainly nice having context from someone who has an intimate understanding of what I am experiencing. To be honest, I’ve always considered her a mentor, but thought it was important that she also have the choice to have me as a mentee.

I think formalizing the relationship is key and often overlooked. I think there are those that we think of as mentors, but perhaps have not taken the time to formalize this relationship. Asking AMK opened up a number of conversations regarding goals and expectations that we otherwise would not have had and it certainly has made our relationship more fruitful.


What does your relationship look like on a day-to-day basis?

AMK: This was one of the first questions I asked Matt when we were talking about formalizing our relationship.  I wanted to understand what he wanted from me in terms of time and in what way—phone, Skype, etc.--he preferred to communicate. We connect in some way—phone, text, email a few times per week.

In a simple phrase—we help each other to achieve our goals.  Matt is currently building a website for my speaking and consulting endeavors and I have written articles for his blog and assisted with his job search preparation. We are mindful of how our skills can push each other to move forward.

Consider this text exchange from last week:

Matt: The Student Affairs Feature 2.0 is going live tomorrow.

AMK: It’s January 1st.  Most people are hungover this morning.  You are publishing a book today.  You should be so proud of your labor of love.  You are remarkable!

Matt: You have to say that.

AMK: I surely don’t have to say that.  It’s just the truth.

Matt: Minority opinion, I’m sure, but thanks regardless.

AMK: Stop cutting yourself down—you need to quit that before you start in your new role. You are teaching people how to treat you.  Choose your words carefully.

Matt: Fair enough.  I’m *freaking awesome!

*He didn’t really say freaking, but this is a family show.

AMK: Matt recently received a promotion and so we have been chatting about how he will be perceived differently.  We are working on how he can still be his authentically, humble self while owning all of his success.

Matt: I think it’s rare if a day or two goes by in which we don’t connect in some way (via email, text, or occasionally Twitter). Often, I read something that gets me thinking and I use her as a sounding board before I jump on it. Some days, it’s telling her that her latest Facebook post was a little ridiculous, other days it’s asking for career advice.

What I appreciate about AMK is she’s always asking the next question. For example, I’ll tell her I have an upcoming interview. I think most would ask if I feel prepared. AMK asks when are we going to schedule a practice interview. There is a higher level of investment. I think she sees my successes as our successes. Not in a narcissistic way, but rather because she is so invested in my success that she can’t help but take it a little personally when I fail or take some ownership when I succeed.

I think there is this perception that because I’m the "mentee" and she’s the "mentor" that I’m always asking for advice and she’s always the one giving advice. But, I was surprised how often those roles are reversed. In a way, it makes sense. Any other type of relationship would be selfish, no? Certainly, I tend to ask advice of her more than she asks of me, but there are a number of times when I receive a text or an email (we both despise voice messages) where she wants me to review a blog post or get my perspective on something.


What do you consider to be your role/responsibilities in this relationship?

AMK: Sounding board, gentle pusher, sometimes not-so-gentle pusher, advocate, cheerleader, and coach—all depending on the day and the circumstance.

Matt: Being open-minded to growth and challenges. Communicating what is going on in my professional life. I certainly feel an obligation to follow-up on the things she asks of me. If I'm asking her for assistance and she requires something of me to fulfill my request, it finds itself high on the priority list. It's interesting. Because of the personal relationship we have, one might think that it would be easier to put these things off - that she would be more understanding - but in many ways I feel as obligated to her as my supervisor.


What do you ask of each other?

AMK: I ask for Matt to think big and dream bigger.  I ask for follow-through 100% of the time. That may seem very basic but it isn’t.  We also make a good team because we have similar thoughts on the importance of contributing to the advancement of the field.  If he is critical about something in Student Affairs I will ask him to consider how he can contribute to making it better in his small corner of the world.

Matt: Goodness. Everything? Certainly most of our conversations are profession-based. But, I think we are both personally and professionally invested in each other. I ask for a lot of advice. I ask for her to share her experience. I ask to be challenged. In fact, I knew AMK would challenge me to do things that few others would - certainly more than I would challenge myself. Ultimately, this is what made AMK most compelling as a mentor.


What do you expect from each other?

AMK: I expect him to stretch himself professionally all the time.  I see a part of my role as helping him to increase his professional confidence.  I expect that he continues to get what he needs from our relationship and if he isn’t, then we need to honestly talk about it.  I expect that he feels comfortable to challenge me and that he feels that I am a safe place to confide his professional struggles and aspirations.

Matt: Investment. Asking someone to be a mentor is a lot to ask. This is one reason why I think it's important that these relationships are formalized. If you fail to do so, expecting the level of investment that I expect from AMK would likely lead to disappointment. There is a level of sacrifice that we expect of each other. We both know it necessary for our relationship to meet it's fullest potential. If you are not willing to sacrifice for the other person, you relationship will be limited.


What does a good mentorship relationship require?

AMK: Consistency, honesty and a real commitment to their goals and future aspirations.

Matt: Honesty. Investment. Consistency.


How do you give each other feedback?

AMK: Honestly and right away. No holds barred. That works for us.  He tells me that I need to take more risks with my blog posts.  I tell him he needs to own his success instead of giving away all of the credit every time.  We consider the feedback and decide what, if any, changes we might make.  But we have a high level of respect for each other even when we disagree.

Like the time I told him he was absolutely crazy for breaking up with his girlfriend.  They are now married.

Matt: We sugarcoat nothing. Neither of us is worried about how the other perceives us. There's not a lot of saving face. When we have something to tell the other, we say it, and deal with it. I can't tell you how much I appreciate this.


How do you prioritize your relationship?

AMK: If I have ten text messages or calls that I need to get back to, he will always be one of the first I respond to. I feel a sense of obligation to make sure I can support him. I also recognize that Matt needs a diversity of people who will help him professionally and I am only one part of his support network. As time goes on, Matt may decide that he no longer needs me in this capacity and that is absolutely fine. But for now I am really enjoying seeing his star rise.

Matt: When something exciting happens the first person I call is my partner. The next is AMK. I ask a lot of her - I recognize this. She makes sacrifices in order to serve as my mentor. In turn, I need to make the same sacrifices. Recently, she asked me to help her with a project. I didn't think of it as a favor. I thought of it as an obligation. In turn, I think she feels the same obligation when I ask things of her.

We have both benefited tremendously from this relationship because we are personally connected and professionally invested in each other. It works for us. Matt will still keep wearing his Nebraska hat and AMK will still post some things on Facebook that might cause Matt to shake his head. But we are fierce supporters of each other and felt compelled to write this blog post in the hopes that it might help you to understand how we have chosen to operationalize a relationship that helps us to move towards becoming better versions of ourselves.

Each mentoring situation looks differently—how have you operationalized your relationship?

AuthorAnn Marie
8 CommentsPost a comment

Two people assume Director-level roles with a similar scope and size of institution in the same year. They graduated from strong masters programs and they came up through the professional ranks in higher education in traditional ways. They are universally liked and have similar skill sets. They have good co-workers and get along with their supervisor. Six months into their new roles, one person is completely floundering and the other is flourishing. So what is the difference-maker in this situation? Capacity.

It is your professional capacity to successfully add more work to your plate that is a key indicator of career progression.

At entry and mid-level roles there is always a lot of work to be accomplished. Student issues. After hours events. Crises management. However as you move up the ranks your supervisor will not monitor your workload or limit the scope of your projects nearly as much as when you were first starting out in the field.

Having an increased capacity means that you will never assume that something is going to be taken off your plate by your supervisor. Instead it is up to you to manage your current workload, delegate when appropriate, and add new responsibilities often while managing the same level of success in completing those duties.

Five years ago a colleague and I made a documentary about women in higher education. We interviewed Donna Carroll, the president of Dominican University. When I asked her what strengths she possessed that made her an ideal person to be a university president she responded instantly.

"I have always known," she said, "that I have a very large capacity for getting work done."

I was surprised by her answer. I thought she would say she was a skilled fundraiser or possessed a strong financial mind but instead of focusing on skills or tasks she focused on the process of working.

Since that day I have talked with others in our field about this concept of “capacity” and wondered if each person has a set-point (meaning that they either have a large capacity or they do not) or if there are actual capacity-building techniques could help a person increase the amount of work they can produce. After careful thought I have identified four key areas that I believe are capacity-building strategies:

1) Creating strong organizational process to manage your day: There are about a million different ways to organize your work--to-do lists, planners, electronic calendars, setting reminders on your phone, etc.—however people who have high levels of work capacity have consistent processes that guide their day, manage their time and signal when their goals for the day have been accomplished. This includes any personal appointments, family commitments or anything else that needs to get done during the course of a single day. People with high capacity may have set days or times for errands, volunteering in their home communities and working on special projects. They are rigid with adhering to those set times. They always make sure they are on-time to meetings, events and activities because they always have a plan B (and C and D) when life's little surprises occur.

2) Recruit, hire, maintain and promote an exceptional team: In order for everyone to increase their capacity, a high-level team must be created or else you (and your other team members) will be constantly working to compensate for their lack of productivity. The most important thing we do in our jobs is recruit and hire the most talented people we can find. Take that responsibility seriously. Recruitment is a 365 day a year process—it’s not just when you happen to have an opening in your department. Keep lists of folks who excel in particular areas in your professional field and create relationships with them. When an opening becomes available you’ll have a well-developed list of people to consider and recruit.

Conversely, know when you have to counsel someone out of the role who is no longer helping the goals of the team and/or their abilities do not align with their current position. This is a painful process and the dignity of the person must be preserved at all costs however an unwillingness to address a toxic or non-functioning staff member can cause serious damage to even an otherwise strong team.

3) A commitment to wellness: Eating well, exercising, getting a consistent amount of sleep and being spiritually centered (whatever that may mean to you) impacts your capacity. Another important part of this is the phrase “on a consistent basis.” If these components of wellness are a part of your daily routine they will lead to long-term capacity-building. The ability to wake up well-rested, fuel your body with things that will maximize the functions of your brain and body, and focus on particular tasks are all benefits of a healthy lifestyle. A key indicator of increased capacity for work is stamina—the ability to continue your work past your typical stopping points.

4) A commitment to a blended life: Capacity is increased when you can kill two birds with one stone. Many folks in higher education have enthusiastically embraced this concept. When you take your partner and/or children to a program on campus, is it considered work time or family time? It’s both. When you work on an article for a professional journal on a Saturday is it work time or personal time? It is both. By re-framing your life to simply be just that—one blended life—then you can focus attention on all areas without feeling a need to compartmentalize them.

Some of these areas may take years to perfect but I believe they are good steps towards increasing your productivity both at home and in your professional life. If not consciously developed, I believe that a lack of capacity-building can stall your career progression and can impact your happiness.

What are some capacity-building techniques that you employ in your daily work?

AuthorAnn Marie
20 CommentsPost a comment

Last week I received this tweet (right):

Many folks either love or hate networking. I have rarely met people who have ambiguous feelings on the topic. The ones who enjoy it are often self-proclaimed social butterfly's, "Woo's" or extroverts.

The ones who are not particularly fond of this may view it as fake, unimportant or might not simply feel comfortable approaching new people for the sole purpose of building their professional network.

No matter where you fall on the spectrum of comfort with networking most can agree that it can serve a purpose. The three ways I have found it most useful are:

1) Resource-sharing: As you move up you will often be asked to "make XYZ happen" or "create this _________ (fill in the blank-program, policy, resource, etc.).

Ummm, OK. Where to start? Begin with your own intellect and experiences and sprinkle liberally with the knowledge of others. Reaching out to my network for ideas, a second opinion or simply having another set of (fresh) eyes on a proposal has made all the difference in my experience.

2) Building a colleague base at, below and above your current professional role: In my current role I have no direct peer who is doing exactly what I am doing (unlike previous roles I have had). Making connections with other people who lead Residence Life staffs has been incredibly useful.

My peers and I often marvel to each other "How come no one tells you that leadership at this level is so hard??" Having other colleagues who are similarly situated in their career builds a strong sense of community across folks at the same level. There are days where having a quick conversation with folks like Torry Brouillard-Bruce (University of the Pacific), Carolyn Golz (Lake Forest College) or Romando Nash (University of Southern California) reaffirm, refocus and restore your belief in your work and yourself!

Building a network with people at less-experienced levels is valuable because it reminds you of the needs of the people you supervise and helps you to understand how your actions, goals and vision may be interpreted. Hearing about the professional journeys of people like Amy Boyle (Loyola University,-New Orleans), Shamika Johnson (Miami University), Matt Bloomingdale (Georgia Tech) and Terrance Smith (Purdue University) has been such a gift to me because it provides an outside perspective on the role of staff dynamics, how change is interpreted and what motivates employees on days when this information is needed most.

As always, we can learn much-needed lessons from people above our current professional level. They can share their perspective from their many years of experience and help you to anticipate and recognize potential pitfalls. I always walk away from conversations with folks like Cissy Petty (Loyola University-New Orleans) Norb Dunkel (University of Florida), Sumi Pendakur (Harvey Mudd College), and Beth McCuskey (Purdue University) feeling stronger, more confident and armed with new strategies to approach my work.

The common thread with everyone I mentioned above is that I have never worked with any of these exceptional professionals. We were first connected through social media, our work with professional associations or have been introduced through a mutual shared connection. My world and my work has been enriched though each of these relationships.

3) Professional development collaborations: I have written articles with people who live 3,000 miles away who I have never met (except via social media), and presented program sessions with colleagues I only met briefly at conferences.

While I do enjoy working with folks who are familiar with my writing and presentation style, it is a great challenge and opportunity to collaborate with a new person and potentially create a useful tool, resource and/or presentation.

I am grateful for these experiences because when I changed jobs and moved across the country I had already built a few relationships with folks who now lived in the same part of the country. It made my transition easier and it felt good to already know a few people in my new region.

A week after I accepted the offer at my current institution my new NASPA region called to offer me a leadership role with their annual conference. Turns out those new connections I had made through networking had advocated for me to serve in that position. Networking is about giving and receiving and I will be sure to repay the generosity bestowed upon me. “Pay it forward” it the key to networking.

OK, so now you have a few reasons as to why networking is important but how do you actually do it? A few tips for your consideration:

Create a plan for each conference you attend: My staff will confirm that I always ask them "What is your plan for this conference?" This means, 1-what coffee dates have you set-up to connect with new people, 2-what sessions do you want to attend both because of the content and the presenter and finally 3-what are your goals for learning, networking and bringing back info to campus?

If you can see a full list of presenters and/or attendees prior to the start of a professional conference you can reach out to structure your schedule in a way that allows you to meet all of your goals. I typically divide my conference time between sessions, volunteer hours for the association (where you can meet all sorts of new people) and pre-scheduled coffee dates with folks who I have asked to connect with or they have asked to connect with me. At a four-day conference you can easily fit in 6-8 of these kinds of meetings.

Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up: I email and/or send a note to every person who gives me their business card throughout the year (on-campus, at a conference, etc). I typically send another piece of communication three months after the initial meeting to say hello and re-connect. That way (the next time you see each other) the conversation has been continuing throughout the year and it feels more authentic than simply the once a year "meet and greet."

Reach out to connect with people individually: Whether on your own campus or through a professional association don't be shy about reaching out to someone you want to connect with. I wrote about this experience a couple of years ago and my professional relationship with this woman has absolutely continue up and enriched my life.

Take a chance-it just might change your life :)

Start locally, then act globally: At my previous university I got connected with our on-campus women's network for faculty and staff members. I met terrific new colleagues--many of whom grew to be good friends! This helps to build your confidence to network outside of your institution.

Remember that the keys to networking are approachability/friendliness (say hello, smile, shake their hand), courage (approach folks you may not know to simply introduce yourself) and commonality (try to find a common thread, mutual acquaintance, etc.) during the initial conversation.

OK, let's practice!

When you see someone across the room who you want to meet consider doing one of two things:

1) Find someone who know that person and ask if they would be so kind as to introduce you: Simply say "I believe you know (fill in the name) and I have really been hoping to meet him/her. Would you feel comfortable making the introduction?"

2) Gather your courage and make the introduction yourself: As long as the person you seek to meet is standing in a group (i.e. not with just one other person) you should feel free to approach him/her. Example intro: "Hello, I'm sorry to interrupt but my name is Ann Marie and I just wanted to say hello and introduce myself. I attended your program session on assessment at the NASPA conference and I really appreciated your information—we are hoping to implement something similar at my school.” This is one of many friendly, brief introductions that establishes a common experience.

Networking may seem daunting but it is all about approach and practice! What tips do you have to sharpen your networking skills?

AuthorAnn Marie
3 CommentsPost a comment

My recent post on readiness prompted several people to ask about why people decide to leave their current position.  Most people leave their current job for one of five reasons.  Some reasons have to do with being ready but many do not.  Consider which reasons may apply to your current situation.

1) The Boss Factor: People don’t leave their jobs, they leave their manager.  No other relationship is as important as the one who is responsible for providing feedback and approving your paycheck.  If working conditions become strained, employees will often seek new opportunities. Is your current supervisory relationship working in a way that is beneficial both to you and to your boss? How can you improve this?

2) Geographic Constraints:  Small-town guy living in NYC?  Urban professional working in a rural community?  Are you working far away from your family and wish you lived closer?  Sometimes the best jobs may not be in the locations that we would personally prefer.  While the allure of a great job may be attractive, the position itself might not be enough to keep you if your personal values are not congruent with your current living conditions.   Will living in a certain area improve your quality of life?  What are the market realities of being able to find a position in this specific area?

3) 3 Years and Up?: Sometimes people job search because they are adhering to a traditional model of career progression.  The old notions of spending three years in an entry-level job and five years in a mid-level role, etc. are no longer relevant.  Based on family commitments, continuing education and geographical constraints, there are no rules anymore for creating a professional timeline.  Yet, practitioners often seek to move before they are ready (or similarly stay too long at one particular place) based on antiquated notions of career progression.  The only timeline that matters is your own. If you are happy at your current job, drown out the voices that keep telling you what you "should" do.

4) Boredom: Can you do your job in less than 30 hours a week?  Are you feeling unchallenged in your work?  While people often leave when they feel this way, the key should be to gracefully depart before you feel the symptoms of boredom creeping in.   By this time, people are usually hoping that you would leave the department any way J.  Be self-aware.  Know when you start to feel yourself not being as effective or interested in your current job duties.   Are you still invested and excited by the work you do each day?

5) Success in most areas of current job role functions: Have you gotten all that you can out of your current role?  Have you accomplished the things you hoped to achieve when you started the position? While all of the aforementioned areas can be valid reasons to move on, this is the one that often feels the most comfortable because you can leave on your ownterms knowing that you are ready for the next challenge.  What does success look like to you?  What else can you get out of this experience?

In your experience, why else do people seek to move on?

AuthorAnn Marie
16 CommentsPost a comment

My recent blog post on the job search process resulted in several emails asking the same question about the concept of being “ready” for the next level.  Mainly, how do you know?  Do you need to ask someone?  How do you manage all of the uncertainties of moving on? Since I believe in the mantra of once is a question, twice is a discussion and three inquiries equals a blog post, I have decided to address this issue based on the volume of questions about this issue.   

The Readiness Factor

What does “ready” really mean?  Ready means you feel professionally comfortable in tackling the duties required at the next-level position. It also means you are looking for enhanced responsibilities in your professional portfolio in all areas—especially supervisory and budgetary oversight.      

Who decides if you are ready?  Only you can truly determine this but your performance appraisals combined with feedback from peers and supervisors can help you see the full picture.  Are you being tapped for progressively responsible duties in your department or division?  This can often be a sign of confidence in your talents and skills.  

Do you need to ask your supervisor? Not necessarily.  But I think it is helpful to ask what they perceive as the biggest challenges for you at the next professional level.   Consult with the people who have worked with you in some sort of professional capacity.  Include mentors, peers and professionals currently at the level you aspire. What area of growth do you still need to consider?  Who will provide you with honest feedback? 

Have you mastered the core competencies of your position? Think about the skills and attributes needed to be successful at the next level.  While positions in higher education may vary a majority of us will need to have strong supervision skills, excellent administrative proficiency, a record of consistent collaboration with colleaguesand the confidence to lead effectively.    

Another concern echoed in the emails about this topic was about project management.  Are you involved in a project that is just getting off the ground and are worried about it getting dropped if you leave the institution?  The reality is that it probably won’t.  If the department is truly committed to it then it will continue to develop.  If it fails, it is not because you left.  The hard truth is that everyone is replaceable but sometimes in higher education we feel like everything will fall to pieces if we don't take care of it.  Not true. 

I personally made the decision to start searching because I had achieved most of the goals that I set when I started at my current institution.  I enjoy my work but I could also feel that tug of “it’s time to move on.”   I spent this past year constantly challenging myself to think “as if”  I was already at the next level when dealing with certain situations.  Although this is not easy, I have become more comfortable in that frame of thinking.  Are you thinking about decisions from the perspective of the level above you? Think "as if" for the next week--you might be surprised at what you see!

The experiences that have helped to shape my professional philosophy are the  result of my work in this position.  I am now more self-aware and confident about my unique skills and talents and will be more purposeful about the career choices I make in the future.  Readiness is knowing that you have accomplished your goals and feel prepared to add value to a new position.  Because past performance is the best indicator of future success I know that I will be ready for the next step and anything that this role has in store for me.

One final concern about the readiness factor was the difficulty of leaving a staff that you have come to enjoy and care about.  We are a relational field.  But your professional ambitions and needs are also important and good people can be found wherever you go.  I know that my department will hire a (hopefully more) talented new person for my position and that our staff will move forward.  Our field is full of outstanding professionals waiting for the opportunity to shine at the next level!  

What concerns do you have about being ready for the next level? 

AuthorAnn Marie
12 CommentsPost a comment