One of the most challenging tasks in public service is finding a trusted advisor who can provide on-the-job advice and help you manage your career. Because institutional knowledge is such a carefully guarded secret and politics are the very nature of our business, it can be difficult to find someone to serve as a coach and trusted advisor. Even worse, your agency may not have a formal mentorship program. But in spite of these complications, the public sector has a number of ways to engage in formal and informal mentorships that can benefit your career and breathe new life into your daily work. Best of all, most of these opportunities are available to you at no-charge!
Naturally, the first place you should look is no further than The GovLoop Mentors Program, a free, government-wide program designed to help connect mentors and mentees who may not have a formal program available at their own federal, state or local agency. It is competitive, so not all who apply will be accepted, but you can enter your email address to be notified when the 2016 program commences, or you can use the contact information available on the web page to establish an inter-agency agreement and guarantee placement.
Consultants And Instructors
One opportunity to build my technical skill set with an informal mentor was on a project that my agency had contracted out to deploy security software across our entire state. The vendor had a technical lead whose information security knowledge was unsurpassed, and I would frequently contact him for advice on best practices and areas where we were delving into am area our agency hadn’t yet gained experience in. Naturally, this contact faded when the contract was completed, but it was an excellent opportunity to obtain insight from one of the top technical people in the industry. A longer-term idea is to make that same connection with instructors from classes in your field of expertise. Because it is a teacher’s natural inclination to tutor, they make excellent mentors and will often gladly continue the mentor-student relationship long after a class has ended. Both of these opportunities also have the added benefit of being able to give you private-sector insights, if you are interested in a mentor that can help you make the transition from government service.
Government Partnerships/User Groups
An option that is considerably closer to home is government programs or user groups available in your local area and your field of interest. One of my most successful examples is InfraGard, the FBI’s alliance with businesses, academic institutions, state and local agencies, dedicated to sharing information and intelligence to prevent hostile acts against the United States. I volunteered to serve as a Sector Chief and in return I get involved in behind-the-scenes discussions on the challenges other Information Security teams are facing. In addition, the knowledge sharing opportunities are amazing because these are peers that know if one team succeeds, we all succeed. But know this; a partnership or user group is where you have to let your extrovert flag fly — you’ll have unlimited opportunities to network but it is all based on your ability to exchange ideas and build partnerships.
In Information Security, we love fancy titles. Whether you’re a CISM (Certified Information Security Manager) or a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), there’s a certification specially designed for you. But the ancillary benefit is that these organizations (like ISACA, who issues the CISM certification), have local chapters, and these local chapters often have trainers who will help you study for the certification. These instructors are invaluable mentors, as they can help you directly apply the knowledge that you’re learning for your certification to your daily work. Since they’re often unpaid volunteers that help grow the organization, I highly recommend taking them out to dinner when you need their advice! Some organizations even offer formal mentorship programs, so make sure you ask!
Once you’ve found someone who you respect, you might find yourself at an uncomfortable silence, because an informal mentorship doesn’t have any structure to guide you. I recommend beginning with these the “killer questions” from either Forbes or Inc to get the mentorship conversation started.
Where have you found your mentorship opportunities? What great questions have you asked your mentor or mentee?
Daniel Hanttula is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.