Building and growing a mentor relationship is often noted, across various industries, as a highly beneficial addition to career and personal development. For example, the 2019 Workforce Learning Report from LinkedIn found that 94% of employees say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in helping them learn and develop their careers.
The Fast 5 series features five questions and answers spotlighting the insights and expertise of an industry expert. For this edition, we spoke with Cathy Orquiola, a regional VP for PCL Construction who oversees operations in California, Hawaii and Seattle. Orquiola is also a member of PCL’s Board of Directors, which represents the interests of PCL’s shareholders. She recognizes that people are the key distinguishing factor in every accomplishment and has embraced her transition as a builder of structures to a builder of people.
Why are you passionate about creating strong mentor relationships?
Many mentors throughout my career have provided invaluable insight, support, and advocacy to make sure my work was recognized. In addition, working with a mentor has helped me expand my vision for myself and identify actionable steps I could take to reach new levels.
As the regional VP and member of the board at one of the largest contractors in the U.S., I find myself continuously learning from other leaders both inside and outside of my field. There’s a phrase that says a candle doesn’t lose anything by lighting another candle, and I couldn’t agree more. Mentor-protégé relationships can be tremendously beneficial for both parties, but it can be hard to know where to get started.
How would you suggest first establishing a mentor relationship?
For a mentorship to succeed, you must practice complete vulnerability and transparency. You’ll need to find someone open to answering challenging questions about their career and who you trust to give you honest feedback about your performance. It doesn’t have to be someone in your field, but it should be someone you have already met or connected with somehow.
I’ve sought out mentors who inspired me and who had achieved what I envisioned as the next step in my own career. Everyone’s path will look different, but it’s helpful to see what an approach can look like when you're working to craft your own.
Once you’ve identified the person, make the ask. It can be intimidating to ask someone to serve as your mentor, but if the mentorship is going to be successful, it's vital for you to move outside your comfort zone. Resilience is essential, too; if your potential mentor declines, respect their answer, but don’t be discouraged. Keep researching and reaching out to individuals you see as a good fit.
Once you’ve identified someone as your mentor, what should happen next?
It’s up to you, the mentee, to drive the relationship and ensure you’re getting the most out of the mentorship. Work with your mentor to determine a format that works best for both of you. I have had several mentors and mentees over the years, and I always like to formalize our meeting structure. For example, my current mentor and I have agreed that meeting quarterly for an hour works best for us.
The location of your meetings is also important to consider. I learn best by taking notes and writing ideas down, so my current mentor and I meet in a quiet office space. Other people may prefer a change in environment, so a mentorship meeting may take place over lunch or coffee. Consistency is key: Wherever you choose to meet, make sure it’s somewhere you can meet regularly.
How do you suggest preparing for your first mentorship meeting?
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to come to the meeting prepared. Mentor-protégé relationships can be hugely beneficial, but you must make sure you’re asking the questions most relevant to your career and its path.
Start by requesting feedback from your mentor on what they think you do well and where you can improve. It can be difficult to receive feedback, so it’s important that you've chosen a mentor you trust and with whom you can have open conversations. If your mentor provides feedback on areas of improvement, commit to working toward excellence in those areas. If you excel at your work, you don't struggle to find advocates for your work. Having someone willing to champion your advancement or who can guide you in advocating for your work can be a gamechanger for your career.
It's also powerful to ask your mentor about challenges, past or present, that they've faced. Personal anecdotes can help illustrate how to work through difficult situations and provide context behind a mentor’s advice.
What is your advice for those on the mentor side of the relationship?
As I’ve advanced in my career, I’ve been passionate about making sure I’m opening up pathways for others. I'm always willing to speak with both men and women whose careers I can impact positively. As a high-ranking woman in a male-dominated industry, I also work to be intentional in paving the way for talented women to rise up with me.
When I visit our offices across the country, I specifically inquire about women who are rising stars and who may benefit from a one-on-one meeting. By sharing my story and journey in construction, I believe I can help women understand they aren’t alone in their experiences. Sharing lessons learned, and learning from each other, is the true power of a mentor-protégé relationship.