The mysteries of networking #5: Try it in reverse

Folks entering the job market for the first time are often hesitant to reach out to potential networking contacts. What do I have to give in return? is a common question. The answer may be to ‘network in reverse’.

Traditional networking is a commitment of mutual support over time. The majority of established professionals hold no expectation of immediate reciprocity when advising newbies to the job market.

Turns out, their expectations need revision; there’s quite a bit of knowledge to be shared by the most recent additions to the workplace. Just don’t be surprised when you get the call from someone twice your age asking, Will you mentor me?

That’s exactly what happened when The New York Times assignment editor, Phyllis Korkki approached social editor, Talya Minsberg.

Let’s start with a quick inventory of your skill set. What is the skill that has been burning a hole on your ‘to do’ list for the last six months? You know, that one thing you are a bit afraid of, but would catapult your career if you just spent some time learning?

Who do you know who can serve as a bridge to knowledge or provide a bit of training and support?

That’s basically the story of Phyllis and Talya, a ‘reverse mentorship’ initiated around the joys of technology, specifically Snapchat.

Phyllis shared her story, ‘Schooled by a Mentor Half My Age’.

“How on earth did I become an “older worker?”

It was only a few years ago, it seems, that I set out to climb the ladder in my chosen field. That field happens to be journalism, but it shares many attributes with countless other workplaces. For instance, back when I was one of the youngest people in the room, I was helped by experienced elders who taught me the ropes.

Now, shockingly, I’m one of the elders. And I’ve watched my industry undergo significant change. That’s why I recently went searching for a young mentor — yes, a younger colleague to mentor me.”

She found that ‘reverse mentor’ in Talya who was ‘Seeing Age With a New Lens’.

 “A few months ago, Phyllis Korkki, an assignment editor at The New York Times who sits a few cubicles away, approached me with a question that gave me pause. “Will you mentor me?” she asked.

I gave her what I imagine was a blank stare, and responded, “Wait, what?”

Phyllis is a longtime Times employee, an accomplished journalist and an author. So the fact that she was approaching me for mentorship was unexpected.

She wanted to do what she was calling a reverse mentorship. She wanted to challenge herself and learn something new, something outside her comfort zone, she said. She wanted to learn how to use Snapchat.

Snapchat is a popular social mobile app that features, among other things, stories that live for just a day. And she came to me because a large part of my role has been guiding editorial strategy in the brave new world of stories that disappear in 24 hours.

So of course I was happy to meet with Phyllis one on one.

But a mentorship? I was honored, albeit a bit perplexed.”

It was at this nexus of generational knowledge transfer, that the two connected in an informal ‘reverse networking’ relationship that has benefited both, and serves as a model for an ‘older brain’/ ‘younger brain’ mind meld.

Phyllis realized the benefit of utilizing a new application @work, as well as the learning experience itself.

“It was exhilarating to see my progress — and embarrassing to witness my missteps, like putting my finger over the camera at the close of the cat cafe video. (But have you ever tried to record yourself while trying to keep a cat on your shoulder?)”

Talya, the mentor, observed Phyllis’ first venture into Snapchat’s geofilters and emoji.

“Eventually, Phyllis took to the official New York Times Snapchat account to broadcast three stories. And three times I waited with bated breath to watch those stories, feeling like a teacher in the back of a classroom waiting for a student to give a big presentation. Each time, she got better — and I was eager to tell her about it in person.

When I gave Phyllis a glowing review, she kept saying, “Really? You like it?” I think we both recognized the moment as a milestone in the reverse mentorship. We both felt success.”

And  that’s the ultimate benefit of a mentoring relationship: both participants experience success.

Your assignment, this week@work, should you choose to accept it: go find your Phyllis or Talya and engage in the career energizing process of a ‘reverse mentorship.”

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