Mentoring in the world of work involves typically senior, experienced and trusted advisors helping individuals overcome challenges, develop and progress. Mentors often use coaching techniques, but also provide advice based on their experience.

Summary by The World of Work Project


Mentoring In The World of Work

Mentoring typically involves a more senior and experienced individual sharing their advice and guidance with a more junior individuals. Sometimes mentoring takes place the other way. When this happens it’s known as reverse mentoring.

Mentoring differs from coaching in that mentors act as advisors and share their experiences, though mentors also often use coaching techniques.

Mentoring relationships can often last for may years with mentoring sessions taking place on either a structured or ad-hoc basis. The frequency of mentoring meetings really varies with some people meeting weekly, some monthly and others perhaps only once a year, if needed.

A diagram showing a senior person mentoring a less senior person in work

Mentoring is a powerful way to help individuals progress in their careers. Most mentors are volunteers, though it is possible to hire mentors as well.

Having a good mentor can hugely help an individual develop and progress. Mentors are useful for everyone, but particularly helpful for individuals in lonely, senior leadership roles who have few peers to speak to and few senior people to ask for advice. Mentors typically help individuals address situations that are new to the mentee, but which the mentor has experienced in the past.

Most mentoring relationships are informal and unpaid, but there are a handful of professional mentors in the world as well.

A picture of a conversation, perhaps mentoring in work
This could be a mentoring meeting.

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Things to Look for in a Mentor

Good mentors can be excellent. Similarly, not so good mentors can not be worth the time it takes you to have a conversation with them. If you are looking for a mentor, it’s important to choose carefully. Chemistry is one of the most important things to look for, but other things you should consider include:

  • Experience & knowledge: Good mentors know more than you and have experienced the challenges you expect to face
  • Honesty & integrity: Good mentors demonstrate integrity in their actions and will be honest with you
  • Reputation: Good mentors have a strong reputation for having overcome challenges
  • Guiding challenge & encouragement: Good mentors, like coaches, will guide, challenge and encourage you as needed
  • Chemistry & trust: Good mentors will be people who you trust and with whom you have personal chemistry
  • Availability: Good mentors are available and have time to support you
  • Vision: Good mentors are visionary and can help you shape and achieve your future
  • Role-model: Good mentors are role-models for the behaviors you aspire to embody
  • Positive: Good mentors bring positivity to your interactions

Getting a Mentor

Getting a mentor is pretty easy. But finding one who is actually helpful for you is a much harder thing to do. The following steps may help you establish a useful mentoring relationship.

It’s not easy to hook a great mentor.

1 – Understand why you want a Mentor

Be clear and honest with yourself about your goals. Can you articulate them? Do you want to grow and develop? Can someone help you? Or do you just want to look like you want to develop?

2 – Choose Someone from your Network to Approach

Consider your current network. This isn’t just the people you know, it’s also the people that they know. Identify someone who you think can help you reach your goals. Step back and think about them and put yourself in their shoes. Take time to understand their goals and needs. Decide if it feels like the relationship could be a good fit for both of you.

3 – Reach out to your Potential Mentor

A telephone - speaking to someone starts the mentoring in work process
Perhaps arrange a quick introductory call?

Reach out to the person you’ve identified who you think could be a good mentor for you. You can do this either directly or through an intermediary if you don’t actually know them. 

Get an introduction and explain that you’d like to meet up to explore things further with them and see if a mentoring relationship could work for both of you. Don’t apply pressure. People will often feel flatter, but may not have time to support you. Ensure you leave anyone you approach space to say no without damaging your relationship.

4 – Test the Waters

If the person you’ve approached is willing to meet with you, or have an initial exploratory call, set some time up and prepare to meet them. First meetings like this are often known as a “chemistry meeting” as their main purpose is to learn a bit more about each other and decide if you can get along together.

In your chemistry meeting you should share your background and objectives, and your proposed mentor should do the same. You should explore things in a bit of detail, but not too much. You should ensure you share personal facts and genuinely get to know each other a little bit.

By the end of your chemistry meeting you should both have a good sense as to whether you’d work well together. If the answer is yes, then you can agree to establish a mentoring relationship. If it isn’t then it’s all just water under the bridge and you can go your separate ways with no hard feelings.

5 – Be a Good Mentee

Get the basics, like turning up on time, right.

Establishing a mentoring relationship is only part of the process. Once you have a relationship agreed you still need to work at the relationship to get the most out of it. This involves preparing, being clear on your purpose, paying attention and listening to advice (you don’t need to accept it).

You should continually assess the benefit of the relationship and if it stops being helpful, stop it.

Learning More

Coaching is something else you might consider learning more about. It can be a powerful tool for helping people develop and achieve their goals.

Coaching is also a hugely helpful skill for leaders and managers in the world of work. It’s a great way to help team members develop or for behavior change. It’s particularly when combined with feedback and reinforcement. You can learn more about how to coach and the benefits of coaching in this podcast.

The World of Work Project View

Mentoring in work is helpful. Having a good mentor can hugely help an individual develop and progress. Mentors are useful for everyone, but particularly helpful for individuals in lonely, senior leadership roles who have few peers to speak to and few senior people to ask for advice. Mentors typically help individuals address situations that are new to the mentee, but which the mentor has experienced in the past. 

In many ways we think that mentors can at times be more helpful than coaches as they usually bring real live experience of having faced the problems that their mentees face, and they provide advice.

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This post has been informed primarily by our experiences over our careers and does not reference any specific sources.

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