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What is Mentoring

Mentoring is a partnership between two people which supports personal and/or professional development between a less experienced individual, called a mentee, and a more experienced individual known as a mentor. Over the course of your career, you may have many mentors and mentees. These relationships may last years, months, weeks or days.

Mentoring may come in bits and pieces as needed by the mentee; or it may be that a mentor and mentee choose to have a standing, weekly meeting time where they discuss a variety of topics.  It depends upon what works best for both people.

An individual may seek a mentor for a variety of reasons:

This guide will step you through the mentoring process. A successful mentor/mentee engagement begins with purposeful planning and ensuring both parties are engaged in the learning goals and relationship.

I. Establishing Learning Goals
II. Identifying Potential Mentors
III. Approaching  a Mentor
IV. Understanding Roles
V. Tips for Mentees
VI. Ending Engagement
VII. Learning More about Mentoring

I. Establishing Learning Goals

The first step in the process is for the mentee to establish their particular learning goals. Sometimes these goals emerge though feedback on a performance appraisal or development plan.  And sometimes goals emerge as a result of the mentee having a realistic vision of where they want to be in their career a few years in the future. The following tool provides some examples of learning goals individuals may be seeking.

Strengthening financial skills. I want to provide useful financial and statistical information such as financial reports, performance reports and metrics analysis. This skill would better help me quantify the worth of my ideas. Where do I start?
  • Identify gaps in financial knowledge base
  • Identify gaps in use of financial software tools
  • Observe interactions in  departmental budget meetings and project-setting meetings to assess appropriate level of information to present
Managing conflict in the workplace I work with competitive people who argue their points (professionally) and often get what they want. I back down on my opinions almost immediately because I want to avoid the stress I feel about conflict, but I’ve lost out on assignments I’ve wanted because of this behavior. How do I change?
  • Observe “conflict” that is effective and you perceive as respectful and translate it into a process
  • Obtain knowledge about conflict management skills
  • Involve yourself in a project or task that promises to put you in situations of conflict
Seeking a Leadership Position I would like to become a Director in the next few years.  I have seen others promoted into these roles.  What do I need to do to get noticed?
  • Gain an understanding of the organizational political landscape
  • Identify skill gaps that may be preventing upward movement
  •  Develop a proposal for promotion conversation
Assimilating into my new role I finally got a job that is aligned with my degree and I want to perform well. Fund-raising is one part of the job that I have not done before.  What should I do to get up and running fast?
  • Secure basic information on approach, tools and metrics
  • Observe others as they engage with prospective donors
  • Identify a particular donor and create a script for your request

II. Identifying a potential mentor

Once you have identified your learning goals, it will be easier to select a mentor.  There are several ways you can go about finding one. 

III. Approaching a potential mentor

Once you have found a couple of prospective mentors, you will need to engage with them and eventually make your request for their attention.  Some quick DOs and one DON’T to consider:



VI. Understanding Roles

If we think of a mentoring relationship as a project, the mentee is the project manager.  It is primarily their job to establish learning objectives, keep on task and timeline and evaluate the quality of the relationship.  As with any relationship, both parties have a role to play.  Some of those responsibilities include:

Mentor Responsibilities Mentee Responsibilities
  • Act as a role model
  • Help identify skill gaps and challenge the mentee
  • Provide safe risk-taking environment
  • Encourage exploration of ideas and risk taking in learning
  • Serve as a source of information and resources
  • Refrain from seeing yourself as one who must know all. Instead, ask questions, facilitate mentee’s thinking.
  • Hold mentee accountable
  • Be aware of signals indicating it may be time to end the relationship
  • Keep commitments you make with your mentor
  • Take the initiative in the relationship
  • Be open to receiving feedback and coaching
  • Take responsibility for your own professional growth and development
  • Seek challenging assignments
  • Renegotiate the mentoring relationship when your needs change

V. Tips for Mentees

There are several ways a mentee can assist their mentor in building a productive relationship:

Additionally, you can help your mentor be a sounding board and a person who leads you to solve your own problems. As you begin working together, you might say something to set the tone for your exchanges with your mentor, such as:

“I have a situation going on in my department that I’d like to talk with you about.  I have some ideas of actions to take that might be helpful and I am hoping that you will listen to my ideas and then ask me some questions to help me settle on the best first step to take. How does that sound?”

As a mentee, strive to be self-aware. Try exploring what words and mannerisms trigger your defenses. Emotional reactions, like feeling a need to protect yourself, may derail your ability to listen for understanding and to receive feedback.  Over the course of the next few weeks, pay attention to conversations you have and what is going on in your gut.  When you feel a reaction that you equate with defensiveness, or anger or embarrassment, etc., ask yourself:

Once you’ve identified the stumbling blocks for you, you can work on desensitizing yourself and eventually those words or terms or tones lose their power to distract you from receiving feedback.  If you would like assistance in exploring how to move past some of the stumbling blocks, you might consider enlisting the free, confidential services of the counselors at the university’s Employee Assistance Program.

Most mentors feel their time mentoring is well spent when they see they are helping a mentee achieve their goals and that they are making a difference in an aspect of someone’s life. Given this, mentees will want to express genuine thanks to their mentors along with specific examples of what the mentor did that was helpful. 

VI. Ending Engagement

Be vigilant in regularly assessing how the mentoring relationship is working. There will come a time when the mentor/mentee partnership will no longer be productive for the mentor, mentee, or both.  For some, discussions may begin feeling more like idle chatter rather than purposeful conversation.  For others, the goals and objectives of the mentee may simply have been met.  Mentors and mentees often stay in touch after the actual partnership ends and their relationship evolves into something different; an end doesn’t have to mean the two of you will no longer interact.  Some suggestions for closing out a partnership:

VII. Learning More about Mentoring

Shea, Gordon F., Mentoring: How to Develop Successful Mentor Behaviors (2002)

Maxwell, John C., Mentoring 101 (2008)

Ensher, Ellen A. and Murphy, Susan E., Power Mentoring: How Successful Mentors and Proteges Get the Most out of their Relationships (2005)

Zachary, Lois, The Mentee’s Guide: Making Mentoring Work for You (2009)

Merlevede, Patrick and Bridoux, Denis, Mastering Mentoring and Coaching with Emotional Intelligence: Increase your Job EQ (2004)