Nav Bassi took an evening MBA at the University of Victoria's Gustavson School of Business to advance his career. But what he did in the mornings contributed to his success, too.
Mr. Bassi, now the university's director of academic and administrative services, enrolled in the school's Executive Mentor Program to complement his classroom learning and met monthly with a mentor at a breakfast nook in Victoria.
"In class, we'd done case studies and talked about real situations, but it was very different to have someone who was living and breathing it day in and day out," says 34-year-old Mr. Bassi, who graduated with his MBA in 2010.
"I was looking for someone who had followed a career path similar to what I was interested in – IT leadership at the executive level," he says.
Robin Dyke, the program's head, suggested a few potential mentors at the time, and he and the MBA student quickly agreed on the best match – the chief information officer of British Columbia's forestry ministry.
Although both sides in the program are committed to meet for just eight monthly sessions, says Mr. Dyke, "if the relationship gets going, it has the potential to morph into a lifelong friendship."
Ms. Bassi and his mentor have remained in touch since.
Gustavson's mentorship program is now 25 years old, but thanks to computerized communications, new mentoring initiatives have recently begun at MBA schools such as Queen's in Kingston and the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.
The intent of mentorship programs is to connect an MBA student not with a potential employer but rather with an alumnus who can give them insights into the realities of the work world.
"It was great to talk to someone who had a wealth of experience, and had faced many of the challenges I was facing in my current role," says Mr. Bassi, who had worked at the university in a mid-level job before being promoted to his current senior IT position.
By 2011, soon after completing his MBA, Mr. Bassi switched roles and became a mentor. He has advised three MBA students and helped them gain traction in their careers. "Any small part I've played in that has been rewarding."
He even benefits. He says the mentees "make me think about how I do what I do in my own job – what works and what doesn't? They keep me fresh. Their questions force me to reflect, which sometimes exposes ways I can do things better."
The Gustavson program has an annual participation of 60 to 75 MBA students, and a roster of 300 potential mentors. Says Mr. Dyke: "It's a noble role as a mentor to remind the mentee of their destiny. The student ultimately makes their own career decisions but benefits from having the sounding board."
At Queen's School of Business, the mentor program, called Qvisors, started in the spring of 2014. Queen's was the first school in North America to buy Evisors' alumni mentorship platform, a software program that connects mentors and mentees digitally much like a dating site helps singles find one another.
Interested alumni input their LinkedIn profiles into the Evisors platform, and interested students search the database. "Once a suitable alumnus is identified, the student indicates through the system a wish to connect, and the two agree on when they'll talk," says Brian Marchant, director of the business career centre at Queen's.
At an appointed time, the system can dial out to both parties, creating a virtual phone call. Most of the discussions run 30 minutes. (Mr. Marchant declines to say how many sessions each pair is committed to.) About 450 of 1,800 eligible commerce and MBA students at Queen's are connecting via Qvisors.
The chats are supposed to fall into three possible categories: a general career conversation, a critique of the student's résumé or a mock job interview. "By far the majority of interactions have been general career conversations," says Mr. Marchant. "The students are trying to find out about a particular industry, a particular company or the talent acquisition process at a firm."
At the University of Manitoba, the Asper MBA Executive Mentor Program also made its debut last year. "The students' underlying goal may be to find a job, and often mentors assist them in making contacts, but we make clear this is not a job placement program," program director Kelly Mahoney says. "There should be a professional development goal."
Female MBAs, for example, might seek insights into how to break the glass ceiling, she says, while international students may want a better understanding of Western business culture.
The Asper program offers virtual and group mentoring, but has not had any demand for these formats from its MBA students. Even face-to-face mentoring has generated relatively low interest so far in the program's early days. The program had 13 MBAs participate in 2014 and has 18 this year.
Ms. Mahoney says the low participation is partly because of the relatively high proportion of international students in the MBA class at Manitoba's Asper School of Business. "Many of them find it intimidating to make such a commitment while still adjusting to their new residence in Winnipeg."