HR Careers

How Mentorship Elevates Your HR Career

September 9, 2021
November 7, 2023
Manasi Patel
Lattice Team

HR teams make it possible for people to be successful. They’re responsible for setting up employees with the resources they need to share feedback, develop career plans, navigate setbacks, and more. But what about the unique challenges that come with having a career in HR? Who’s there to ensure that HR professionals are equipped with the tools they need to grow and succeed?

Mentorship programs are increasingly popular in the HR profession, providing a way for people to connect, engage, and share valuable knowledge about all things People strategy. Resources for Humans (Lattice’s online Slack community of 13,000+ HR and recruiting professionals) recently launched the RfH Mentor Program, which connects HR newcomers with seasoned experts to work together on achieving professional goals. With over 80 successful pairings in its current semester, the program gives participants a chance to expand their network and advance their careers.

We sat down with the founder of the RfH Mentor Program, as well as a few of its mentors and mentees, to understand more about what makes mentorship programs so impactful. Here’s what we learned.

What led to the idea of the RfH Mentor Program?

As the driving force behind Resources for Humans, Grace Cheung knows a thing or two about building communities. That’s why the RfH Mentor Program made perfect sense to her as the next step for the forum’s growing network of HR professionals.

“Since Resources for Humans was designed to help HR professionals connect, share advice, and ask questions, the mentorship program came about as a natural extension of that mission,” Cheung said . “Our members loved the help they were getting from the community but wanted to make deeper, one-on-one connections where they could really dive into work problems. When we saw more and more requests coming in from our members seeking an experienced mentor within the community, we knew we could help play a part in making those connections.” 

Why do people seek mentorship?

1. Inspiration

People look for mentorship because they’re interested in expanding their knowledge and perspective on the HR industry. If you’re looking for inspiration or direction, partnering up with an accomplished role model in your field is a no-brainer. According to Cheung, “Many HR professionals are seeking mentorship to supplement their career development, whether it's developing leadership skills to move up the HR ladder or getting a different perspective from a more seasoned leader to determine which path their HR career should move towards.”

“I craved inspiration, so I entered the mentorship program bringing my true self and an open mindset.“

For Laura Rondanin, RfH mentee and People Operations Specialist at Webflow, joining the HR field was an unexpected shift from her early roles in marketing. After realizing early in her career that she was more passionate about helping people than selling products, Laura decided to go all-in on getting to know her new industry. 

“I was eager to build connections with fellow People professionals and find a role model in the space. After such an emotionally charged year, I craved inspiration, so I entered the mentorship program bringing my true self and an open mindset,” Rondanin said. 

When asked what her mentorship goals were, Rondanin said she had “written down a few general professional goals, like sharpening strategic thinking skills, data analytics, and DE&I knowledge,” but she was mostly interested in “learning by osmosis and seeing a committed People leader in action." 

2. Perspective

It takes time to develop confidence in your work. When you’re trying to navigate the ins and outs of a rapidly evolving field on your own, it’s helpful having someone that can act as an unbiased and neutral sounding board. As someone who has been working in the People space for eight years, RfH mentee and People Director at Connected Camps, Diego De La Peza, considers himself a budding People leader. But that doesn’t mean he’s immune to self-doubt.

“Like so many others, I've struggled with imposter syndrome. The pressure of self-imposed, unrealistic expectations can be truly overwhelming, but that's where a mentor can come in. A major reason I sought out a mentor was to help me refresh my perspective and challenge my way of thinking. Sometimes this meant pushing me to go even further, and sometimes it meant realizing that I was already succeeding. Above all, mentorship is about trust, and having that person who you know is in your corner is a powerful antidote for self-doubt,” De La Peza said.

Imposter syndrome isn’t exclusive to early professionals — according to Cheung, even seasoned experts experience their own share of uncertainty.

“I was surprised by how many HR leaders had years of experience and either weren't sure they had the capabilities to be a good mentor or were also seeking mentorship despite being at a much senior level. It just goes to show that imposter syndrome affects all of us despite the experience and achievements under your belt,” Cheung said.

3. Support

The past couple of years have had a huge impact on virtually every role within every business. HR teams, in particular, have had to adapt, innovate, and execute faster than ever. While it’s an exciting time for the People industry, it’s also a demanding and challenging one.

“Given the events of the last year and a half, many applicants to our program were also seeking mentors who would understand what they were going through and who could guide them,” Cheung said. 

“I can say that I gained a trustworthy supporter, a confidant, an advocate, and an ally.“

Conflict management, communication, leadership skills, and scaling startups are some of the most popular focus areas chosen by the RfH mentees. But seeking mentorship is more than just a career development move. Opening up about your personal aspirations and challenges requires a certain level of trust, so it’s no surprise that mentor and mentee partnerships often evolve into meaningful, lifelong connections.

“The relationship with my mentor organically developed into a true friendship; I can say that I gained a trustworthy supporter, a confidant, an advocate, and an ally,” Rondanin said.

Why do people choose to be mentors?

At its core, Human Resources is about being of service to others. As someone who didn’t have a clear career goal straight out of college, RfH mentor, ambassador, and Chief People Officer at dv01, Fred Leong, believes that being honest and aligning his personal and professional values helped him immensely along his professional journey. 

“Service, leadership, and paying it forward are part of my DNA. I truly believe everyone has the ability to lift others up, and it comes down to choice. I choose to empower, to be a trusted resource, and to help add confidence whenever I can,” Leong said. “For me, mentorship was about making the most out of a moment spent with someone I admired — observing them and asking questions,” he said.

Leong isn’t alone in his service-oriented mindset. For RfH mentor, ambassador, and Vice President of Human Resources at QC Terme, Penny McNerney, the HR industry wasn’t an immediate fit. McNerney said she “was fortunate to have leaders that believed in me, often more than I believed in myself, and who guided me to where I am today.”

“It’s all about giving back and paying it forward. it is all about, providing guidance and support to future leaders and watching them develop into what they aspire to be. There is nothing better than that,” she said.

The RfH Mentor Program is offered twice a year in the fall and spring. Participants are paired together for four months to collaborate, learn, and share their perspectives on People strategy. Sign up here if you’re interested in joining or getting involved! 

What does it take to be a mentor?

Every mentorship program is different. Some of them are highly structured and specific to individual companies, while others are informal and more broadly focused on an industry or skill set. The ideal mentor isn’t going to look the same for every program, or even for every mentee. When it came to determining the qualities and requirements of an effective RfH mentor, Cheung said it was a collaborative process.

“We came up with the criteria for our program thanks to one-on-one conversations with RfH members and people outside of Lattice who had experience running mentorship programs. All mentorship programs are built differently, but the common theme was finding people who were committed to the length of time set, to building a proactive partnership, and who agreed to provide feedback on the program when asked. There are not a lot of requirements to being a good mentor/mentee, but we do have a list of do's and don'ts for both parties like respecting each other's time, keeping conversations a safe space, and so on.”

But being a mentor is about more than meeting the program requirements. For a lot of mentees, finding the right mentor is about finding someone who can relate to their experiences and provide a relevant perspective.

“As a queer, multiracial person, I really value connecting over shared life experiences. A bond has a special kind of magic when it's with someone who can identify with the nuances of your life that others may not understand,” De La Peza said.

“Mentorship thrives off leaving egos at the door. A mentee needs to be honest with the challenges they're facing.“

Mentees also want to be mentored by people that share their values and are able to impart wisdom on topics they are especially passionate about.

“My ideal mentor is someone who is willing to share their own experiences and provide guidance, advice, and actionable feedback. [Someone who is] passionate about diversity & inclusion, focused on character and values, and able to nurture my personal growth as well as my technical abilities,” Rondanin said .

“I also think that mentorship thrives off leaving egos at the door. A mentee needs to be honest with the challenges they're facing, and a mentor needs to not try to always have the perfect solution,” De La Peza said. “To me, a willingness to learn from each other, experiment with new ideas, and explore areas outside of your comfort zone is a recipe for a *chef's kiss* level of mentorship.”

Is there anything unique about mentorship in the HR field?

There’s no denying that working in HR can be an extraordinary experience. The past few years have sparked a shift in what it means to be an HR professional, and newcomers may be feeling the pressure to evolve and grow faster than ever before.

For RfH mentor and Head of Talent Acquisition at thatgamecompany, Christine Chua, a career in HR wasn’t a part of her original plan. Chua thought she had found her lifelong role working as an analyst. But after transitioning into a People role at a startup, she decided she had found something special.

“I feel what is unique about the HR field is that instead of sales, or products, or go-to-market concerns, we are constantly challenged and expected to adapt to the ever-changing people and work landscapes. Growing sentiments on equality, diversity, and remote and hybrid work are a few that come to mind,” Chua said .

Keeping up with the pace of change in the HR industry can be challenging for even the most seasoned employees. Many HR teams have had to go into overdrive to keep businesses functioning, and it’s easy to feel burned out from meeting the needs of the organization. That’s where mentorship comes in.

“Mentorship for People professionals is so unique because our jobs center around a lot of emotional labor. Other people's jobs literally are our jobs. We listen, and coach, and problem-solve all to empower others to be the best version of themselves. But we typically have to be self-reliant in order to support ourselves in the same way, especially on small teams. A mentor can be that person. They can be that advocate. They can be that energizer recharging your battery when you spend all of your time recharging others,” De la Peza said.

“Perhaps I’m a tad biased, but I do think that HR out of all the other fields knows how to listen and knows how to guide but not make the decisions, which permits the mentee to grow and develop!” McNerney said .

Mentorship programs have quickly cemented their place in the HR landscape as a way for People professionals to engage around shared experiences and develop in areas they are passionate about.

“I am starting to see a turning point with great resources, such as the RfH mentorship program, where HR professionals no longer put their own career growth and aspirations on the back burner,” Leong said. “They are leveraging mentorship to be more knowledgeable, to be more intentional about what their passions are, and to be more confident that they are doing an awesome job as HR pros.”