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Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me, I’ll understand.

Chinese proverb

What is the difference between a mentor and a coach?

“Mentors put in, coaches draw out.”

“A coach has some great questions for your answers, a mentor has some great answers for your questions.”

These are just a couple of often-quoted sayings that highlight the difference between a coach and a mentor. Coaches usually refrain from giving advice. They help you reflect by asking powerful questions. Mentors are experienced people in the field who pass on their skills, competencies and wisdom. Coaching is often short-term and task-based while mentoring is a long-term, talent development relationship with a broader focus. Mentors are encouraged to use coaching skills in their mentoring relationships but their input is not restricted to asking questions.

It is important to note that coaching and mentoring are both very valid and effective people development tools and are not in competition with each other. Both can produce good results when used in the right context, either as separate activities or as a combined method to help people develop. To read more about why we need both mentors and coaches, check out this article by Keith Webb.

Which is the correct term to use in English: mentee/mentoree/protégé?

All three terms can be found in literature on mentoring. While mentee might sound strange to some, it is included in three major dictionaries of English (Oxford, Cambridge and Merriam-Webster). However, mentoree is not listed in these dictionaries. According to Google Books Ngram Viewer, mentee is used much more frequently than mentoree. Protégé is accepted but seems to have a negative connotation for some speakers because of the age and power distance it implies. We opted for using the term mentee on this website.

I would like to be mentored by someone. How can I find a mentor?

Look around you and consider whose work and attitude you admire the most. Talk to your supervisor and ask if you could be mentored by that person. If for some reason that person cannot take you on, ask your supervisor, if another mentor could be found with similar expertise and interests. If you cannot find a formal mentor right away, start with an informal mentoring relationship. You can always learn from others, if you are open and interested.

What are the 4 basic stages of a mentoring relationship?

  1. Preparation: finding out whether mentor and mentee can work well together
  2. Negotiation: defining the nature, the timeframe and the process of the relationship and how to work towards the agreed-upon goals
  3. Enabling growth: regular interaction to facilitate growth toward agreed goals
  4. Closure: evaluating and celebrating accomplishments and deciding how to move on.

Are there different ways to do mentoring?

Yes. There are many different methods that can be used effectively depending on the context and goals of the mentorship. The most common ways are: 1-to-1 mentoring, group mentoring, peer mentoring, mentor constellations, e-mentoring, etc. You can read more about these on the Types of Mentoring page.

What is the difference between informal and formal mentoring?

Formal mentoring is a professional development tool in the workplace. It is a mentoring relationship that is limited in time (usually between 6 months to 3 years), has clearly-defined goals and is actively supported by organisational leaders. There is often a written, formal mentoring agreement that outlines the responsibilities of every person involved in the mentorship.

I have never been mentored myself. How can I learn how to mentor?

You learn mentoring by mentoring. However, mentoring skills can be honed by intentional, reflective practice. As a start, you might want to read the page on Professional Development for Mentors that contains suggested activities for developping your mentoring skills at four different levels. You can also read about Mentoring Competencies to get an idea of skills and traits needed to be an effective mentor.

What are the minimal qualifications needed to be a mentor?

There are different levels in mentoring competencies. A primary mentor has overall oversight of the professional development of the mentee. A secondary mentor can certify a mentee in a specified competency or competencies. In order to act as a secondary mentor, you will need to be attested in a particular competency or competencies and have some basic orientation or training on mentoring. In order to be a primary mentor:

What is the difference between a mentor and a supervisor?

This is a very important question that is often asked in formal mentoring programmes. In some cases, there can be some overlap between the roles of the supervisor and that of the mentor but it is best to keep them separate as much as possible. It is recommended to outline the responsibilities of each in the formal mentoring agreement (an example here) as a succesful mentorship requires the active support of the supervisor. In general, the mentor comes alongside the mentee and passes on his/her competencies through regular meetings. The mentor suggests courses of action to attain the goals outlined in the mentoring agreement. The supervisor is to ensure that:

  • staff have a professional development plan
  • staff have one (or more) mentor(s) to help them grow in their competencies
  • the mentee has adequate time allocated to the mentorship alongside other work responsibilities
  • he/she discusses, discerns and decides which courses of action suggested by the mentor can be realistically fitted into the mentee’s program
  • the mentee has the financial resources needed to complete the agreed courses of action
  • the mentee is held responsible for respecting the mentoring agreement
  • appropriate help is found, if the mentorship does not work well.

How can we agree on expectations and goals regarding the mentorship?

It is recommended that the mentee, togeher with the mentor and with input from the supervisor, formulate the goals for the mentorship. These goals and details about the mentoring relationship should be stated in a formal mentoring agreement. Here are two templates for a formal mentoring agreement that you can adapt: a shorter one and a longer one which also provides space for outlining the responsibilites of all partners involved: mentor, mentee and supervisor. The goals can then be broken down to SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-oriented) activities to clarify how the goals will be reached. This list of SMART activites can also serve as a tool to track progress in the mentoring relationship. Here is an example that you can adapt for keeping track of your SMART activities related to mentoring.

How do I start a formal mentoring program in my organisation?

We suggest that you read one or two of the recommended books about how to initiate and implement a successful and robust mentoring program in your organisation. Defining your vision in a way that it is rooted in your organisation’s culture and value system is essential. Make sure that you share your vision clearly with the leaders of your organisation. Without buy-in from the top, it will be very difficult to create an effective and sustainable mentoring program.

How do I monitor a mentoring program?

Monitoring a mentoring program is especially important in the beginning. There are different ways of monitoring and evaluating progress and challenges. It might be good to keep track of who is mentoring who, how frequently mentors and mentees meet and whether the goals defined in the mentoring agreement are being met. The recommended books on the implementation of mentoring programs can give you concrete tools for monitoring and evaluation. You can also download this Mentoring Programme Success Evaluator that can help you reflect on how well your programme is doing.


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