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A successful mentoring relationship includes conversations about everything

This is a translation of my & my wonderful mentee’s Maria Weckman interview for The Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers. Click here to read the original interview in Swedish.

The conversation between mentor and mentee can be about just about anything. From finding ways in your career to getting to know yourself and your driving forces deeper.

When the Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers launched “Mentor Search” in spring of 2021, both Anna and Maria expressed interest in it. Albeit from completely different directions.

“I have started to reflect on how my life looks like. It’s like reading a book about myself”, says mentee Maria Weckman, 29.

“Being a mentor to Maria has made me think about my own choices”, says Anna Balciune, 32.

Anna, who currently is the Connectivity strategy and portfolio manager at Telia Company, was ready to take on new mentees after having just finished being a mentor in the “Women Go Tech” programme. Maria, who completed a master’s degree in energy systems in Uppsala in 2019, found out about “Mentor search” through a newsletter.

– I was thinking about finding a mentor for quite some time. The tipping point was when I read about this service. I got interested in Anna’s mentor profile, she seemed to have exciting experience, interests and thoughts, says Maria.

– I did not set any goals before contacting her, but just felt a need to talk to someone outside of my own bubble about life, career – everything.

That is where the relationship began. Among several applicants, Anna chose to accept Maria’s request for “Mentor Search” and they set up a first digital meeting.

– Maria wrote very openly. It may be good for others seeking a mentor to understand, that if you show what you want and make it clear that you are open to change it makes a choice easier, says Anna. Maria continues:

– Anna focused on goals setting already in the first meeting. She is very structured. My goals have been a lot about better balance in everyday life, above all to have an even energy level, not just over a week but over an entire day. I have also set a goal to define a meaningful career for myself. I personally want to work with things that matter to me. How am as a person then, what do I enjoy and what works for me?

What was it like handing yourself over to a person you had never met, and also in a digital meeting?

– I probably set a conscious attitude that if looking for a mentor, you have to open up. It does not make much sense if you do not. So, when Anna gave me homework I have really tried to be as open and honest as possible. I probably also work a little like that, if I get a task I do it, and do it properly. But it is Anna’s structure that helped, I had not come up with these thoughts myself.

In addition to the goal setting, have you used any methods, Anna?

– I try to actively listen and find the direction of the dialogue. I usually adapt exercises and templates, and try to formulate thoughts and experiences in a format that fits. When it comes to careers, I try to share my own experiences.

Together, they have worked on finding a better energy level balance and what a meaningful career in social security could look like for Maria. Anna has also helped Maria evaluate the qualities of a good future employer.

– This is important to reflect on, says Anna. Many people dream of working at the so-called dream companies, but it is important to think about why do you want to work right there? Does the culture and work climate at, for example, a large company really suit me as a person?

– Yes, Maria adds, it was probably one of the best things we worked on in terms of career choices. To identify what constitutes my dream workplace. Not position, but workplace. If I can think completely freely, is it a small workplace, how many people work there. Is it important to have coffee breaks, how your working hours should be like. What am I really looking for?

“Together with Maria, I have also reflected on my own choices. We found areas where Maria did some tasks, and I thought, “Why should I not do this too?” So for me, this is also personal development.” – Anna Balciune

Sounds like your mentorship relationship really gives something?

– I probably think that most of what we have talked about together has given something, mostly because I have started to reflect on how my life looks like. It’s like reading a book about myself. “Aha, that’s why I act the way I do or act in a certain way!” It’s more of a mindset, and sometimes I’ve discovered patterns, says Maria. Anna continues:

– Together with Maria, I have also reflected on my own choices. We found areas where Maria did some tasks, and I thought, “Why don’t I do this too?” So, for me, this also is a personal development. It also gives a good feeling to support others. To be able to share knowledge and network, see the other person grow and get something good out of the relationship.

What else do you gain being a mentor?

– I believe that the more people who succeed in achieving balance in working life and growing in their own terms, the more positive changes and initiatives we will see in the engineering industry. It makes me glad to help others and to have the opportunity to reflect. In addition, I get to practice my own communication. If we agree to focus on a subject, I have to prepare, structure my thoughts and do it in Swedish. Maria is my first mentee ever with whom I speak only Swedish. This way my self-confidence is also growing!

Although Anna and Maria, who currently work as systems engineers at AFRY with security issues linked to both the civilian and defense industries, are not active in the same industry, they can also talk about professional challenges in their meetings:

– If, for example, I have project management dreams, Anna can share her experiences about this, even if expert knowledge in our respective industries does not overlap, says Maria Weckman.

– Yes, it is another good thing with the mentorship, Anna adds. It is interesting and stimulating to meet people from other areas. I hear new things about what Maria works with and it adds new thoughts to my own professional life.

Since the start, Anna and Maria have planned to continue meeting once a month until the summer of 2022, and the plan remains. During interview, they are talking like old friends, even though they have never met in real life.

– When I was looking for a mentor, we were in the middle of the pandemic, and you Anna wrote that you live in Sundsvall. Had we not been in the middle of pandemic, I might have chosen someone else I could have met in live. But I’m very happy that it turned out the way it did, and it has really worked very well meeting digitally.

– Yes, we like everyone else have not had a choice, but it has gone very well, concludes Anna Balciune.


About Anna Balciune

Anna is a certified career and life coach and mentor for young women in traditionally male-dominated fields such as STEM. She empowers young women to create an enjoyable career that fits their desired lifestyle, to nurture femininity and shine with confidence, by taking consistent action towards inspiring goals. She is a connectivity strategy & portfolio manager, analytics lead, and a board member of labor unions for graduate professionals at a global telco, as well as a wife and a mum. Anna spent her last decade studying & working in several EU countries, and is now based in Sweden.

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