New program at VDAJ State Group Bonn

Mentoring – profiting personally from exchange of experiences.

By Mechthilde Becker-Weigel.

 When Odysseus set off for the Trojan War, he asked his confidant Mentor to look after his son Telemachos, and introduce him into society. And that’s where mentoring all began.Today,the term “mentoring” stands for an experienced expert providing guidance to a generally younger and less experienced person. Accepting support from external advisors can help one’s own development. Mentors pass on inside knowledge about formal and informal rules, facilitate access to personal networks and provide advice on personal or career matters.

In a journalist’s everyday working life, it’s often difficult enough to maintain an overview when matters become hectic in the editorial offices, press rooms and communication departments. There’s a feeling that one’s own personal development is left out of the equation. This is where an experienced advisor can be helpful.

In other professional fields, mentoring is already a tried and tested, commonly used method of professional encouragement. Today, mentoring programs are implemented in many companies, organizations and scientific institutions, including the German Journalists Association (DJV).

Mentoring for agricultural journalists

The Bonn State group of the Association of German Agricultural Journalists (VDAJ) offers its members a mentoring program. The project, launched last year, aims to “hitch up” the mentoring teams as a tandem for a year.

The mentoring program addresses agricultural journalists in phases of change and reorientation in their career – agricultural journalists and PR experts planning their next career step, or those starting up their own businesses. Agricultural journalists who can already look back on a few years of professional experience and have concrete plans for their future or for change can apply to become mentees.

Mentoring objectives

– Exchanging experience, learning on-the-job

– Passing on informal knowledge and contacts

– Providing individual advice and feedback

– Individual career advancement

– Exchanges across hierarchies in a spirit of trust and confidence

– Support in expanding networks

The real core of the mentoring program is the individual relationship between mentee and mentor. The pair agree to meet to discuss matters of interest. The number and duration of the meetings are left to each tandem. It is recommended that the “couples” meet up for a roughly two-hour discussion every month in order to facilitate continuous development. Each tandem also determines its own discussion contents.

Who are the mentors? 

The mentors are committed colleagues in the VDAJ who are willing to pass on their experience. They are motivated to show guidance to their less experienced colleagues. They identify with the VDAJ objective of bringing publicists and agribusiness communicators together and supporting them actively. The exchange with experienced mentors gives valuable thought-provoking impetus. The participants are able to profit from the wealth of experience accumulated by a personal mentor.

Possible contents of mentoring

The thematic areas and contents of mentoring are just as varied and individual as the participants themselves. Frequent topics addressed by mentoring relationships are identifying career goals and designing a personal development plan for the mentee. This can mean work on the mentee’s strong points or mapping out expedient steps for personal and professional further development of the mentee.

The mentee and mentor may also discuss forthcoming decisions that the mentee has to take, weighing up advantages and disadvantages, reasons and consequences.

Generally the mentor and mentee discuss the ongoing projects of the mentee and topics arising from these. The mentee receives feedback illuminating his or her behavior in professional situations.

How does a mentoring process proceed?

Mentoring is an open, unstructured advisory process. There are few specifications defining how it should run and what thematic area should be discussed. These result from the respective current personal themes and specific questions of the mentee. The success of advisory inputs depends strongly on whether the mentees make pro-active and targeted use of the advice and support offered by the mentor and do not wait to be told “how it should be done”.

The mentee plays an active role in structuring the mentoring process.  The mentoring tandems meet regularly for “four eyes” meetings, at least monthly for about two hours.  They organize these meetings on their own initiative and set out the themes and learning goals for their sessions.

The themes arise from the professional and personal situation of the mentees and the experience and advisory competence of the mentors. One learning goal of mentoring is to strengthen the self-reliance and individual responsibility of the mentees, which is advanced not only by the contents of the discussions, but specifically by the open form of organization.

How do mentee and mentor come together?

The potential mentees can apply to the VDAJ State Group Bonn. They are given an application form. Candidates are invited to a personal interview to gather information for matching and the search for a suitable mentor. Applicants bringing in concrete themes and objectives for personal mentoring and displaying an active attitude to mentoring are taken into the project.

The potential mentors are addressed specifically once the mentees are selected.  Factors such as for example geographic vicinity, personality or specific experience can play a crucial role. The mentors work on a voluntary basis.

Accompanying events

The mentees and mentors are supported by various events helping them to make successful use of mentoring. An introductory workshop is held as a kick-off event. Here mentors and mentees are prepared for their respective roles and tasks.

Half way through the year an intermediate event for mentees and mentors moderated by a presenter is held. This intermediate stock-taking serves to provide an exchange of experience on the course of mentoring to date, and an exchange of ideas on how best use can be made of mentoring in the time still remaining. At the end of the mentoring year, a final event offers an opportunity to strike a balance together.


Mechthilde Becker-Weigel is an agricultural and business journalist and is responsible for developing the mentoring program on behalf of the VDAJ State Group Bonn. She has undergone training as a systemic coach, trainer and change management advisor and gathered experience already during the first mentoring program of the German Federation of Journalists (DJV), North-Rhine/Westphalia State Association.

Contact: Mechthilde Becker-Weigel, email: becker-weigel(at)

(Note:  This professional development feature is provided through a partnership of IFAJ and the Agricultural Communications Documentation Center, University of Illinois.)

October 2011

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