When the sweeping fifth wave of coronavirus forced school activities to move online in Hong Kong early this year, career activities were no exception. While the suspension of face-to-face classes cut a lot of the social ties of students, the Careers and Life Planning (CLP) Team, of which I serve as the head, and the Alumni Association (AA) of our school harnessed technology to build connections between alumni and current students in an online internship program. A plus is that in the program we can transcend geographical barriers and involve overseas alumni, such as those in the United States and the UK.
Structure of the Online Mentorship Program
This experience is essential for students, so we made participation in the program compulsory for all Form 4 students (Grade 10 in the U.S. system). The mentorship program consisted of a kickoff event, which all participants were required to attend; virtual meet-ups between mentors and mentees; online alumni sharing sessions; and job shadowing and internship opportunities.
Recruiting mentors. Invitations went out by email to alumni who had graduated within the last 10 years to serve as mentors. The Alumni Association mobilized its network to recruit mentors from different generations of the alumni community and also extended the invitation to past mentors.
After getting 40 mentors onboard—around one-fourth of the number of student participants—we held a briefing session online to explain the details of the program to mentors, providing them with an opportunity to mingle virtually with each other, and to shed light on the characteristics of Generation Z.
Matching mentors with mentees. The matching exercise was next. To maximize interactions between the alumni and the students, the organizing committee determined that the ideal mentor-mentee ratio was one to four or five. They also decided that career interest would be a factor in group allocation. The CLP Team sent a Google Form to the students and gathered information about their preferences for job sectors and professions, including accounting, banking, engineering, marketing, law, and medicine. The same question was in the Google Form that the Alumni Association sent to mentors to ensure that the information on that form was aligned with the information collected in the mentee survey.
After months of preparation, it was time for the kickoff event. The key to success with an online mentorship experience is the participants’ high level of involvement. To this end, we started the event with a Kahoot activity. The organizing committee had preassigned mentors and mentees to groups based on career interest. Each group worked as a team in their own breakout rooms and competed with other teams by answering a series of questions from organizing committee members as quickly and accurately as possible.
Questions ranged from history, mathematics, and cryptocurrency to knowledge about the school. The groups had 30 seconds to discuss and answer each question in the breakout rooms. Through this ice-breaking activity, mentors and mentees got to know more about each other.
To further develop group dynamics, in the breakout rooms mentors shared with mentees one successful experience and one unsuccessful experience, while mentees took turns sharing a life goal with the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) strategy they had learned in the school’s career and guidance lessons. This activity ensured that there would be an authentic need for communication between participants.
Mentors shared how they had overcome adversity so that mentees could understand the importance of resilience in the face of challenges in life. Instead of lecturing mentees about the so-called golden rules of success, mentors needed to listen to mentees about their future aspirations and bridge the communication gap between the two worlds.
This was followed by an informative session about the expectations that students needed to meet in the mentorship program and the career exploration opportunities that were available in the program.
The event ended by opening the breakout rooms again, and each mentor had to come up with a date for the next virtual meet-up session with mentees. Each group had to submit a group photo of this session to the organizing committee as proof of their willingness to sustain the communication.
Online alumni sharing sessions. After the kickoff, to promote further exchanges between mentors and mentees, each mentor indicated in a Google Form which of the nine online sharing sessions they could help out with as either a mentor or a facilitator. The brainstorming activity of the briefing session for mentors had generated the topics of the nine sessions, which spanned different career fields and aspects of career planning—for example, banking, law, medicine, coding, humanities, and CV preparation. Each mentee was required to attend at least one sharing session.
Key to success. Like it or not, technology-driven career activities are increasingly becoming the new normal, and in the near future, more of these events will be conducted virtually. The success of online sessions hinges on interactions among the participants. Mentors should avoid lecturing participants and instead strike a delicate balance between information dissemination and interactivities. Organizers should make every effort to create meaningful exchange opportunities. This is particularly important in the online mentorship program, which attempts to knock down communication barriers and help build lasting relationships.
With careful design and planning, online events of this kind provide a viable alternative to in-person events. The school community comes together, and mentors and mentees can participate in the mentorship program from the comfort of their home or office.