A new way to shape the people you'll be hiring in 2014 (or sooner)

November 22, 2010: 3:54 PM ET

When Ashkon Jafari was in college (starting at age 16), "I had no one to turn to for advice and felt lost," he says.

Then he snagged an internship where he lucked into meeting a boss he now describes as "an outstanding mentor," who helped him choose the right courses and find his first real job.

The experience proved so valuable that it inspired StudentMentor.org, a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit Jafari launched last month.

StudentMentor is the first national online mentoring matchmaking service designed to pair up college students who have questions with experienced businesspeople who have answers.

Prospective mentors and mentees can join for free on StudentMentor's web site and are matched according to their areas of common interest. Geography isn't a factor, as most mentoring sessions take place online or by phone. In its six weeks of existence so far, 296 mentors have signed on.

Teisha Overton, who heads up Indie Recruiter LLC, a human resources consultancy in Garland, Tex., is mentoring a student in Las Vegas whom she met through the site.

"She hasn't chosen a major yet, but one of her interests is HR and recruitment, so we're talking about how she could focus her course work," Overton says, adding: "In this tough economy, college kids are pretty shaken up about their prospects once they graduate. They're also extremely motivated."

Says Doug Brent, a California tech executive who has counseled several mentees since joining StudentMentor last month: "Most of their questions are about very specific situations, like 'How do I get along with a difficult boss?' or 'What should I do to prepare for a job interview?'"

"Even kids who are really good at being students just haven't yet learned basic business stuff, like how to network, which is where a mentor can really help. And you can meet via email, Skype, or whatever, so the process is efficient," he says.

Brent, whose own two children are recent grads of Harvard and USC, characterizes himself as "a Boomer who wants to help", adding, "Students tend to listen better to advice from people other than their parents."

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Anne Fisher
Anne Fisher
Contributor, Fortune

Anne Fisher has been writing "Ask Annie," a column on careers, for Fortune since 1996, helping readers navigate booms, recessions, changing industries, and changing ideas about what's appropriate in the workplace (and beyond). Anne is the author of two books, Wall Street Women (Knopf, 1990) and If My Career's on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map? (William Morrow, 2001).

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