The Magic of Mentorship
By Priyanka Pande
Editor’s note: Priyanka Pande, CPIM, is a sourcing analyst at Santander US. She earned her Master of Science in engineering management and a graduate certificate in supply chain from Northeastern University in 2017. A few years ago, Pande sought a mentor who could help her navigate her job search, supply chain career goals and more. She reached out to Gary Smith, CPIM-F, CSCP-F, CLTD-F, chief of enterprise asset management at MTA New York City Transit. SCM Now Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Rennie recently had the opportunity to speak with them about their experiences, their mentor-mentee process and lessons learned from this relationship.
Rennie: Before you began working together, what did you expect from your mentor or mentee? And what were your key objectives?
Pande: As an international student just out of grad school and about to the enter the workforce, I needed a direction and advice from someone who is an expert in the field. There are numerous choices one has to make: choosing the right company and industry, narrowing down wide-reaching career options, selecting a job offer. It can be overwhelming. Thus, having mentors who can guide and provide critical feedback is of the utmost importance. My goals were to develop a trustworthy and a non-judgmental relationship where I could freely express myself and ask for advice — and to find a mentor who would provide different perspectives, offer a direction to my career and give critical feedback in order for me to grow.
Smith: When I first started mentoring, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My first priority was to give back something to a profession that has been so good to me for nearly 40 years. Most of the good things that happened in my career were directly or indirectly from the advice of a mentor of my own. My key objectives were to be available for my mentees, listen to them and do my level best to support them in their careers.
Rennie: Please tell me about the process of finding the right mentor or mentee for you.
Pande: I have always been interested in knowing people associated with ASCM and currently working in supply chain. I started to use LinkedIn as a tool to look for experts and professionals in the field. And with Gary’s impressive profile and him being extremely kind and responsive, my choice was clear.
Smith: Many of my mentees come from the ASCM Mentor Center. As Priyanka said, she found my profile on LinkedIn and contacted me directly, so I asked her to register through the Mentor Center. Next, I asked her to provide me with a copy of her resume. Resumes are very important, as they tell a prospective employer your story. I recommend that all of my mentees focus on what they have accomplished, instead of their responsibilities. I ask them to include any instances where they reduced cost, increased throughput or improved accuracy. I also look for any grammatical errors. Poor grammar in a resume makes it difficult to read. For many of my mentees, English is a second language, and English grammar is notoriously difficult.
Then, we discuss interview strategies and tactics. I stress being prepared. Research everything available on the company and people you will be talking to, and thoroughly review the job description to understand what is stated and what is implied. I then ask them to prepare notes on how their studies, projects, internships and previous job experience make them the right candidate for the position. I encourage them to tell stories about their experiences so that, at the end of the interview, the interviewer really has an idea of who the mentee is. These young people have accomplished so much!
Pande: I remember when I first had a virtual meeting with Gary, I also made sure to share my background and current interests. For the first couple of meetings, we got acquainted with each other and understood what were the important objectives that we needed to focus on. As I was looking to enter the real world after my graduation, I prepared a list of questions for Gary. For instance, some of the questions that I asked were: What are the skills I want to develop and experiences I want to gain in the next five years? Is it worth relocating for a new job? How can I develop leadership skills? Can you help me evaluate job offers? Gary provided me with really great insights on how to approach a job search and narrow down my options. I am so glad I was able to get four job offers from great companies!
Rennie: What is your mentoring time commitment, and how often do you communicate?
Pande: Mentoring is a two-way street, and effort from both sides is necessary to drive the relationship forward. Though we do not have a fixed time commitment, we make sure to touch base over a call a couple of times a month, in addition to numerous regular email communications. If there is any important career-related activity happening, we certainly make extra time to discuss things. At the end of a day, it is a relationship, and we let it grow organically on mutual respect and trust.
Smith: All of my mentoring relationships are reasonably mature now. Some of the mentees are still in school, some are in graduate school, and the rest are working. A couple have even received promotions. I check in often, and it is really great to see their futures unfolding!
Rennie: What kinds of topics do you discuss?
Pande: We exchange our thoughts on current industry trends, share interesting articles, or talk about podcasts we like. Sometimes, it’s just about business books we like to read. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from Gary was when I was preparing for an interview. He said: “Priyanka, you have written many articles and cases. I would bring them with me. That could help you score an extra point.” That one piece of advice he gave me was a true game changer in my job interviews. I thanked Gary from the bottom of my heart.
Rennie: Many people involved in supply chain mentorship programs note that mentoring is a great way to create more diverse businesses, gain new ways of thinking, and help people work effectively across cultures and generations. Have you experienced anything that would support these views?
Pande: For many years, supply chain has been considered an uncommon career. Most of the current supply chain workforce is almost reaching the retirement age or beyond. Also, there have been difficulties in attracting fresh talent and retaining them. For example, when I was working at Staples Inc. in the logistics team, the people I was working with were 20-to-30 years more experienced than I was. It was a surreal experience working with a different generation and learning from them. I feel mentoring is a great way to bridge that gap. It builds confidence for the mentee to say “yes” and explore opportunities to develop a career roadmap.
Mentoring carves the path for personal and professional success. I have received great insights on how to approach a job hunt, as well as guidance and feedback in terms of mock interviews, applications, certifications, and instilling confidence and making me believe in myself. Also, being able to get opportunities through my mentor’s network, connecting with like-minded people and expanding my professional network are invaluable.
Smith: My mentees are excited and inspired. I am in awe of these young men and women — many of whom have traveled halfway around the world for an education and new life. The majority speak more than one language; some three or four. These people are multicultural, multi-lingual and multitalented. They are the future of our industry and our profession, and when I work with them, I know supply chain’s future is secure. They inspire me, and I am so impressed by their courage, intelligence and determination. They are my heroes.