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I’ll start this by stating that a mentor can be a great resource to help guide your professional and personal growth.
I believe mentorship is akin to friendship and should not be one-sided. The best mentor relationships are the ones where each side learns something from the other. No matter how young you are, you never know what someone can learn from you.
For those of you who have not been fortunate enough to find a mentor within your own organization, you should look into formal mentoring programs. These can be just as helpful. One example is ASCE Mentor Match, which has a framework set up to facilitate mentoring by putting the onus on the mentee to choose a mentor based on criteria such as occupation, years of experience, specialty, or interests.
Once you have a mentor, it is important to ask the right questions.
Here are my top five questions to ask your mentor, as a young professional:
1. What is a key lesson you’ve learned that you wish you’d known as a young professional?
This is a question I always recommend, since it can provide valuable insight that you can take on board in your own career. This helps you avoid falling into the same pitfalls as others and can help you with mapping out your own path.
2. What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned and how is it valuable?
I always like to ask this one because it helps you learn leadership techniques and ways to apply them. Leadership is a skill, and learning from others will give you a head start in developing your leadership skills.
3. How do you balance your work and home life?
I believe this a great question to ask as young professionals often find it difficult to set boundaries. I know I did. It can be difficult to say no and all too easy to try to impress your peers by taking on more than you can handle. However, you must take care of your health and clearly define the line between business and personal to have a more fulfilled life.
4. Can you tell me about a time when you had a difficult co-worker or work environment? How did you handle it?
As a professional, you will undoubtedly be faced with difficult situations, and it can help to understand how to best navigate those, learning from someone who has gone through it. Learning how to have difficult conversations and deal with conflict can be a useful skill to learn early and can later be used in leadership positions.
5. How do you go about building/maintaining your network?
This is may be common knowledge but having a strong network is beneficial to growing professionally. Your network can open doors for you and provide opportunities – whether that be jobs, contacts, mentorship, the list goes on. I believe it’s best to begin building your network as a young professional and continue to grow it as you progress in your career.
There are several other questions you could and should ask your mentors. These are simply my top five that I believe will give you invaluable insight and hopefully help you start your career off on the right foot or keep it on track.
If you don’t already have a mentor, I definitely recommend finding one. Just someone you can turn to when you need advice.
Kush A. Vashee, PE, CAPM, ENV SP, LEED, graduated from Virginia Tech and with a B.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering in 2016. He has quickly ascended the ranks from Graduate Engineer to Project Engineer and received 4 promotion in 5 years along the way. Currently he serves as a Project Transportation Engineer at Rummel, Klepper & Kahl in their Highway Division. Kush is a licensed Professional Engineer, certified Envision Sustainability Professional, certified Associate in Project Management, DEQ certified E&SC Combined Administrator and VDOT Advanced Work Zone Training certified. He has worked on a variety of roadway design projects and retrofit projects, most notably the Prentice Drive and Lockridge Road West project.
Kush has been a member of ASCE since 2013 and is involved locally as the Secretary of the National Capital Younger Members Forum (YMF). At the society level, Kush is a member of the Transportation and Development Institute Younger Member Committee and a contributor for ASCE Collaborate. Kush has a passion for volunteering and often participates in community clean ups and serve as outreach coordinator for his office, where he frequently leads and organizes local outreach events.