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Must Alumni Mentoring Relationships Be Like ‘Marriages’?

Must Alumni Mentoring Relationships Be Like ‘Marriages’?

A question for both alumni relations and alumni career services professionals – must alumni mentoring relationships really be like marriage?  I don’t believe so.

Let me explain.

For a while now I have seen two somewhat contradictory statistics.

On the one hand in an average alumni directory or alumni portal, we have seen 70% of alumni say they are willing to be a mentor. This is an amazing and stable statistic as seen across hundreds of our clients’ alumni networking and mentoring platforms.

On the other hand, we have seen the number of people who formally enter into an alumni mentoring relationship to be, relative to this 70% number, significantly lower.

So how can one explain this difference?

One possible answer is that although alumni are willing to mentor others, they themselves do not have a need for alumni mentoring? Possible, but this goes against lots of research that I have blogged about previously.

An alternative and more likely answer is that our definition of what a mentoring relationship means needs updating.

For some mentoring relationships, be it alumni-alumni mentoring or alumni-student mentoring, are an intense, formal relationship that is ‘entered into’ almost like marriage.

The reality is that most alumni mentoring relationships are not like that, and do not need to be structured like that.  The ‘marriage’ model of mentoring, offered by alumni career services, may only be suitable for a minority of alumni and students looking for much more long-term advice and support.

I believe most mentoring relationships have a diverse range of intensity and formality.

Let me use the case study of Smith School of Business in Canada.  Please watch first their two-minute movie on the amazing mentoring community they have created using a platform powered using the alumni software from my company Graduway.



What is striking about the success that the Smith School of Business has had building this mentoring network is the variety of alumni and student networking experiences they have facilitated.

Yes, they have enabled full ‘marriage’ type mentoring but they have also facilitated more informal mentoring such as being ‘available for a coffee’, ‘willing to make advice’ or offering to ‘make introductions to my connections’.

In fact, if you look at the number of unique networking conversations then approximately 50% of the network has been involved in some form of alumni networking or mentoring.

When it comes to mentoring, we need to still believe in marriage, but perhaps we need to recognize other types of relationships.

Alumni networks need to be less well defined and more open to what alumni and students really want.

We may need to re-think how we offer our alumni career services going forward.

I would welcome your thoughts. 

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