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Experienced Mentors Share Their Secrets to Success

By Bonnie Poindexter

Mentors can make a huge difference in our working lives. Whether it's offering tips on dealing with difficult co-workers or advice for taking the right career path, mentors are there to help employees navigate the corporate world.

Quality Engineer Annie
“My mentor and I are giving our beloved GEM 63 nozzle assembly one last look before it ships off to meet the rest of the booster. The GEM 63 boosters will support the United Launch Alliance Atlas V and Vulcan rockets.”
—Annie G., Nozzle Quality Engineering Intern, Promontory, Utah.

Insights from Northrop Grumman Mentors

Bill Frank
Bill
Manager,
Systems Engineering,
Melbourne, Fla.

Describe your role as a mentor...how many years did you work at the company before you started mentoring?

I’ve worked at Northrop Grumman for 38 years, and during the last 10 to 15 I’ve done formal mentoring. It’s always a little bit of technical and interpersonal. Sometimes somebody just needs to vent or wants a person to lean on. There’s more to life than work — people need to be reminded of that.


How has your approach evolved?

On the NATO AGS program, it was more of an exchange where we taught each other. I am actually watching their careers now. It’s been rewarding to watch them grow. We learn a lot from each other. The technology changes so fast — just keeping up with it is a full-time job.


How are today's early career employees different from past generations?

Sometimes they expect to be a vice president in five years, and it does take a bit of explaining to get them past that. They come to the table with so many advanced tools, but they don’t necessarily know what the right decisions are. They’re capable of so much work. They are like bottle rockets, so you’ve got to point them in the right direction.


What do you get out of mentoring?

When I’ve counseled someone and I see accolades coming from their boss, that’s a great feeling. And when they teach me something, there’s nothing better than that.

Courtney W.
Courtney W.
LAS/Commercial Nozzle Quality Engineer,
Brigham City, UT

Describe your role as a mentor...how many years did you work at the company before you started mentoring?

I had been with the company for just under two years when I started mentoring. I trained Annie, my summer intern, on quality engineering. We also focused on what she could expect to be responsible for as a full time quality engineer. I felt it was incredibly important that she shadow other engineering disciplines so I took an active role in coordinating job shadowing or tours with other organizations. Beyond training and the technical aspects of the job, Annie and I regularly discussed her future career options and what she could expect from the transition from interning to full-time position negotiations.


How has your approach evolved?

I started by listing out everything that I thought it would be important for Annie to see or learn during her twelve weeks with us. My own mentor was helpful in talking through my ideas for the internship and gave me advice on how to improve Annie’s experience. The best internships I had allowed me to control its direction once I had enough training and I wanted Annie to have that same opportunity. As the internship progressed, I shifted my focus to asking Annie where she felt the holes were in her understanding of the production cycle and we changed her workload to give her exposure in those areas.


How are today's early career employees different from past generations?

Today there is a lot more pressure to have experience before you apply to full-time positions. Many of the later career engineers I have discussed this with mentioned that they never had internships and were not really expected to when they applied for full-time positions. During my own application process with Northrop Grumman, I found that my previous internships and work experience were pivotal to being considered a successful candidate.

However, once early career employees are in the workplace, I think many of those differences disappear. I have found that people are much too concerned about how to deal with “Millennials in the workplace.” The big answer is to treat early career employees as professionals and give them opportunities to grow.


What do you get out of mentoring?

I learned that sometimes clichés are true and you don’t truly know something until you teach it to someone else. Annie asked excellent questions and I discovered many areas I had stopped questioning base assumptions as often as I should. Mentoring pushed me to learn other organizations’ roles at a deeper level so I could give succinct answers about work flows and business functions. I also had to brush up on technical details I had not revisited in a while.

Stephen Guine
Stephen
Manager, Mission Assurance,
Space Park (Redondo Beach, Calif.)

Describe your role as a mentor...how many years did you work at the company before you started mentoring?

I’m coming up on 14 years with Northrop Grumman. I’ve been mentoring employees the whole time. I try to focus on technical and interpersonal mentoring, including personal and professional growth — how to be a professional, and how to be a healthy and productive human being. I ask the questions: Is this a career or is this a job, and what do you need to do to make this into a career?


How has your approach evolved?

I have conversations about people knowing themselves and who they are. I get to know just as much about myself as I do about them. When I started, I provided all the answers. I went from being a “talking” mentor to a “listening” mentor. I’ll ask things like, “Do you travel for work? Are you in a relationship? What impacts you in life?” I’ll talk about shared experiences to get to know them better.


How are today's early career employees different from past generations?

When I started at Northrop Grumman, we had much more of a “throw everyone in the deep end of the pool” philosophy. If you ran into a wall, then you would ask someone for help. This created self-reliance to some extent, but it also created angst in certain employees. Now we do much more guiding and involvement. Ultimately, I think we’re doing a much better job.


What do you get out of mentoring?

I am lucky that I’ve had a few very good mentors at different points in my career. Early in my career, I worked at a printing company where I was late all the time. The owner told me not to come back to work until I knew I wanted to commit to the job. I returned to work and we talked for an hour about the importance of being on time. That really taught me about the value of coming to work on time every day. That’s why I’m so passionate about mentoring and helping others.