24 January at 04:00PM
Mentoring at PMI Toronto: Building Strong Partnerships Among PM Professionals
Career Accelerator Program
Did you know that January is mentoring month? At PMI Toronto (PMIT) we are dedicated to creating a couple of professional mentoring programs that allow all project management professionals to work together and enrich their careers. PMIT runs many courses and programs which offer opportunities for skilling-up your resumes or providing professional development. One program close to my heart is the Career Accelerator Program, or CAP for short.
CAP is a one-to-one mentoring program for project managers and aspiring project management professionals. Managed and run solely by volunteers of PMIT, it has an established framework that allows mentors and mentees to follow throughout the 12-week program. The program is a partnership between mentors and mentees.
What is Mentoring?
First, let’s confirm our understanding: What is mentoring? Mentoring is a structured relationship between a mentor and a mentee:
- The mentor is a skilled or experienced project manager who can use their professional expertise to help mentees answer questions or provide them guidance. While building their leadership skills, the mentor can develop a meaningful professional relationship with their mentee. Mentors can also learn from their mentees too such as different industry standards, cultures, values, and more!
- The mentee is a participant in the program who wishes to solve a problem or meet a goal. Ideally you have a specific career goal (e.g., land a new job). Once matched with a mentor, you both create a plan to accomplish the goal within a set timeframe. The mentor can help you to focus on key steps towards achieving your goal, help you grow your network, develop your personal brand, or clarify any gaps or new skills required in order to pivot to your target industry or role.
And what exactly does CAP involve?
An intense, outcomes-focused program, the Career Accelerator Program helps mentees to achieve a specific career goal in a short period of time. Running for 12 weeks the participants have a structured playbook to follow. There are three check-in meetings to make sure all mentor-mentee pairs are on-track (kick-off, mid-term, and lessons learned). CAP also has a private LinkedIn group for participants—past and present—to keep in contact with each other and grow their networks.
Participants in the program earn 15 PDU’s. For further information check out the CAP FAQs page.
Insights from Mentors & Mentees
Now that we have been introduced to the program, let’s hear from some current and past mentors and mentees who can share more about their experiences as a CAP member!
Advice from A 20-year Mentor
Melain is a project manager who works for the Ontario government and has served as a PMIT mentor since the first Professional Mentoring Program (PMP) in 2001. PMP is a 6-month mentorship program. CAP was born out of PMP as a way to connect more mentors and mentees across a shorter time-frame. Melain has watched the programs evolve and grow over the years.
You have been a mentor for a long time. What keeps you coming back?
I have benefited a lot from being a mentor. I get to learn from my mentees, and I have developed relationships across several different industries.
In the beginning I initially participated to stay connected to the project management profession, but over the years I have learned a lot. I particularly learn by looking at the questions mentees bring to me. Over the years the questions change, and they are often thought-provoking. I would say that problems mentees bring, provide me with an ongoing dialogue of the profession.
How do you start each relationship?
I go in with an open mind. My mantra is ‘sharing is important.’ Remember, this relationship is a two-way street. One watch-out as a mentor is knowing your strengths and weaknesses. If mentee goals are something I can’t handle, I am fair, clear, and upfront about what I can and can’t support. For instance, if their industry is different from mine—my own area of opportunity is manufacturing. My work experience encompasses a 20-yr career within the Ontario government.
What do you like about the PMIT Mentoring Programs?
I love the playbook! It was piloted in the first year and has grown over the years. While we don’t always need to go through it page by page, it is a great guideline for the mentor-mentee relationship.
What are the keys to a strong mentor-mentee relationship?
I would say over the course of the CAP program, my top three items would be the:
- (Playbook) The life timeline: For both the mentor and mentee this helps us to understand each other (e.g., your first job, first pivotal milestone in life) and build a trusting relationship
- (Playbook) The agreement document: It is fundamental to clearly state the mentee goals, the how-to steps we will take, the time, and place to have our weekly meetings
- Ownership: Once we have established the game plan in the first meeting, I let the mentees drive the sessions so I can provide constructive feedback and adjust our plans as we proceed. Mentors are guides for the mentees on their journey
After 20 years you must have a large network! How do you maintain it?
I actually choose not to use LinkedIn; I prefer phone and video calls to keep a warm one-to-one relationship. LinkedIn is a portal for job seekers or making connections, but it is not a solution to replace in-person connections.
I usually keep in touch with mentees to know their progress by having a touch-base with them two or three years after the program has completed. I have had close to 50 mentees over the past 20 years, and I still mentor at least once per year, so I think it is up to the mentee to work with me to keep a long-term sustained relationship. Remember, we need reciprocation on both sides!
Thank you Melain for sharing your insights and learnings over your long mentoring career!
Behind the Scenes with Repeat Mentors
Now let’s talk with two mentors who were inspired to return as repeat mentors, Syed and Nabeel.
How did you both learn about the CAP program?
Nabeel Nasir, a two-time Mentor (NN): I learned about CAP through my membership with the PMI Toronto Chapter. They sent out an email about the program, asking for volunteers and I jumped at the opportunity.
Syed Moize, a four-time Mentor (SM): I learned about CAP from PMI Toronto’s chapter website. I enrolled as a mentor in 2019.
Thank you for sharing how you made your way to the program. What caught your eye about it? Why did you decide to register?
NN: I owe a lot of my success as a Project Manager because of the mentors who have helped me along the way. Registering for the CAP program was my way of paying it forward and providing a mentee with guidance on advancing their career.
SM: Prior to joining CAP with PMI Toronto, I was mentoring with other organizations. My primary motivation to register was to pay it forward to the project management community through my PMI local chapter.
How did participating in this program benefit you?
NN: Being a mentor is an incredible learning opportunity, because the mentee shares their unique experiences and it challenges you to advise them on a path forward. I felt that I got as much out of it as the mentee, if not more.
SM: Every mentoring session is a new journey, I get an opportunity to interact with mentees from diverse backgrounds and experiences. I learn a lot from their journey and their plans to succeed.
Finally, looking back at the total experience so far as you have participated in CAP; would you recommend the program to others? If yes, why? If no, why not?
NN: Yes, I would recommend project managers give back to the community and help those looking to get ahead in the profession. Having been through a few rounds with the mentoring program, they do a pretty good job of pairing you with a mentee in the same industry.
The benefits of mentoring are mutual because indirectly, the mentor learns things through that partnership. Also, it's a good networking opportunity as you get introduced to other mentors as part of the orientation process.
SM: Yes! I will always recommend it to people for these four reasons:
- The CAP program is very well structured
- PMI Toronto Chapter has mentors with a wide range of expertise, in terms of industry domains
- It is a focused program, it emphasizes more on quality rather than quantity
- It is very well conducted. I have completed four CAP cycles as a mentor, and I always find that every cycle is well-planned and well-executed
Recent Experience of a Mentor and Mentee
Joan and Samara, a Mentor/Mentee pair who went through CAP’s Spring 2021 cohort, shared their thoughts on the program. Joan is a long-time mentor with the Toronto Chapter, and guided Samara as she was looking for advice to facilitate a career transition into project management.
Samara: Rather than the website, I learned about the program from the Weekly Scope, the Chapter’s weekly e-newsletter (Note: Samara leads and manages the newsletter team as a Chapter volunteer!). I was looking to make a career transition; I had outgrown my current role and recently attained the PMP, but not previously worked in project management or participated in a formal mentorship program.
I was looking for direction on my next steps and how I could continue to grow and develop career-wise. The CAP program seemed like a great opportunity to consult with and learn from someone who had found success as a project management professional. I was matched with Joan.
The CAP program was a pivotal turning point for me. Right before starting the program, I was seconded into a dynamic and agile project role at work. It was quite stressful and overwhelming —albeit exciting. I was able to build a great relationship with my mentor and Joan was vital in helping me to balance the stress of this new role, while also providing direction and insight on how to approach different facets of the work. I looked forward to our weekly calls and was able to further develop my skills and competencies, particularly as a leader, thanks to my wonderful mentor, Joan!
Joan: I enjoy being a mentor because in addition to meeting interesting people like Samara, I can also get the PDUs I need to keep my certification current!
Doing this program is a rewarding way to earn PDUs, and I enjoy my experiences as a mentor. There is a feel good component to the act of serving as a mentor—being of service to another person makes me feel like I am making a difference.
This is a valuable program that benefits all parties. I also learn and grow as much as the mentees. I would definitely recommend this program to others.
Samara: Joining the program resulted in the confidence to successfully apply for my first permanent project management role. The strategies and approaches I learned from my mentor and her insight on my skills helped accelerate my career!
Thank you to all the mentors and mentees who shared their experiences with us. Listening to their experiences, and having been a mentee previously with CAP, I have taken my next step and signed to be a mentor for the next CAP cycle. Mentors are so vital and I am excited to take this next step. You should too! The next cohort starts in February 2022. Register here before the application deadline, if you are interested to join too!