Mentoring has helped many budding meeting planners survive their first years on the job. But how many people are really doing it? And if you wanted to find a mentor — or be one — where can you start?

One way is via the Meeting Matters Listserve, or MIMList. MIMList members simply post “mentor wanted” and “mentor available” messages. But MIMList moderator Joan Eisenstodt, a Washington, D.C.-based independent planner, says that mentoring is often misunderstood. “Some who seek mentors believe a mentor is there to help them find jobs or change jobs; others believe a mentor is there to provide the answers for work- and life-related issues.” Eisenstodt also says a lot of seasoned planners shy away from mentoring, fearing that they don't have enough to offer their greener colleagues.

Meeting Professionals International is attempting to change that as part of its Women's Leadership Initiative. M.J. Calnan, managing director of the leadership initiative, says MPI events already provide a natural environment for networking, but some members have asked for something more structured. MPI is polling selected chapters to get feedback on the subject. “By the end of November, we will know more about what mentoring means to these women,” Calnan says.

A formal mentoring program at the University of Las Vegas-Nevada has grown to include about 500 students. Patti Shock, director of UNLV's tourism and convention administration department, says it started with a few alumni each being matched to a student for a year; then more local tourism experts stepped forward to offer their services. The student/mentor pair commits to talking on the phone at least once a week and having lunch monthly.

UNLV students also get a chance to network and identify potential mentors by working at the Society of Corporate Meeting Planners' annual conference. While SCMP doesn't offer official mentoring, many members are open to sharing their experience, says Kevin McNally, catering and convention services manager at the Chicago Sheraton Hotel & Towers and an SCMP co-president. “Any time a student comes to me and says, ‘I want to learn more about the business,' I take the time to do that.’”