University of Guelph business student Paul Leptocaridis aspires to become an investment banker, but knows no one with an insider's perspective of the industry.
That's why he jumped at a chance this fall to participate in a new program offered by Guelph's College of Business and Economics that recruits alumni to mentor undergraduates.
"You can ask someone in the industry and get some insights on what the work is like," says Mr. Leptocaridis, who's interested in learning about career planning, work-life balance and networking. "I am trying to learn from someone who has been in the industry for some time."
The Guelph, Ont., school's Business + Mentoring Program joins a growing list of business school initiatives that tap mentors – alumni, industry veterans and even students – to smooth an undergraduate's career path.
The relationship is not a one-way street, says Guelph dean Julia Christensen Hughes.
"It sounds trite but they [mentors] want to give back," she says. "They also want exposure to talent."
This fall, Guelph expects to match 40 to 50 top students with mentors who meet in-person and online for at least three sessions during a semester. Developed by the school's career centre and the university's alumni affairs department, the program plans to add about 1,600 third- and fourth-year undergrad business students in a couple of years and graduate students after that, says Mary-Anne Moroz, manager of the career centre.
With mentoring, she adds, "Students will be in a much better position once they are ready to start their job search."
Recent Guelph business graduate Andrew Arklie signed up as a mentor because he remembers the challenge of finding a job in real estate without professional contacts.
"The majority of students are in the same position I was – sorting out what I wanted to do, where to live and where the best job prospects might be," says Mr. Arklie, regional manager for Guelph-based Skyline Living, the management division of Skyline real estate investment trust.
Last year, Queen's School of Business in Kingston added a mentoring program that uses an online platform to connect students and alumni with shared professional interests.
The school's Qvisors program is "LinkedIn on steroids," says Brian Marchant, director of the business career centre. Selected students connect with Queen's alumni, who agree to participate in formal, recorded conversations on career planning, interview strategies and effective résumé writing.
"It is a win-win for everyone," says Mr. Marchant, including employers.
"From corporate Canada's perspective, they are looking for ways to retain talent and avoid the cost of losing talent," he says. "If mentoring someone along and giving them a strong supporter inside the business helps to do that, it is a worthwhile investment."
In another model, Dalhousie University's Rowe School of Business in Halifax provides a three-way connection for undergraduates, corporate sponsors and non-profit organizations. Students work for 12 to 16 weeks on a project for a charity, sponsored by a company that assigns an employee as a mentor and pays the salary.
Last summer, fourth-year bachelor of business management student Andrew Faircloth worked for the Atlantic Canada office of Prostate Cancer Canada, the charity of choice for Royal Bank of Canada that paid his $9,000 salary. Mr. Faircloth developed a plan to expand the charity's volunteer network, interviewing Halifax-based business leaders as potential supporters.
Mr. Faircloth, 21, eyeing a career in commercial banking, says the program gave him a window on the non-profit sector and a potential banking industry employer.
His mentor, RBC senior account manager Kim Ping Yim, met him regularly to offer advice on the project and, knowing his career interest, made introductions to bank colleagues.
"She was a great sounding board if I was ever torn up about something," Mr. Faircloth says. "RBC was really open and they [bank officials] did everything they could to better me."
Unlike many mentoring programs, one at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business in Vancouver is explicit about helping students land careers in brand management.
Initiated seven years ago by a former student and now managed by the school, the program selects top commerce undergraduates and MBA students for mentoring by Sauder alumni, who are now brand experts at consumer packaged goods companies. Students receive in-person and online coaching from the mentors who, mostly based in Toronto, volunteer their personal time for intensive weekend sessions in Vancouver during the school year.
Students also are coached for interviews with potential employers who historically recruited only in Eastern Canada.
"It is creating a relationship between the [business] organization and the university that didn't exist otherwise," says Sauder marketing professor and program director Tim Silk. Over the past seven years, he says the program has placed 30 graduates with major firms compared with none before.
Commerce graduate Nicole Israll, a brand manager for toothpaste and mouthwash at Colgate-Palmolive, says, "I would not be where I am today without having gone through the program." Now part of the mentor team, she reviews cover letters and résumés, conducts weekend workshops and screens students for interviews.
Fellow UBC grad Kelsey Ingham credits the coaching she received for helping her land a summer internship last year that led to full-time employment at Kraft Canada as a brand assistant.
She sums up the impact of the program on her professional life in one word: "priceless."