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News & Blog > Get Involved with the Alumni Network > Mentoring > What is a Mentor?

What is a Mentor?

Some guidance on what to expect/not expect from a mentoring relationship
8 Feb 2019

What is mentoring?

Mentoring is a process in which an experienced individual (Mentor) helps another person (Mentee) develop his or her goals and skills through a series of time-limited, confidential, one-on-one conversations and other learning activities. 

It’s about motivating and empowering and helping the other person understand themselves and their aims – and how they can get there. It's also about helping each other resolve issues, whether directly or more often through advice and sharing experiences. It is not an offer of employment or work experience nor will the mentor do the work for you, it is up to the mentee to drive the relationship.

There are many different kinds of mentoring, from informal to formal. An informal mentoring relationship is spontaneous (think of times you have been helped by someone more experienced than you without explicitly asking to be mentored). A formal mentoring relationship is intentional, with clear goals and agreements about the nature of the relationship.

The IDS Alumni Network Mentoring & Advice Programme facilitates formal mentoring relationships between alumni and/or students. We have three schemes to help you do this, and you can find out more using the links below. 

  1. Ask An Alum, for quick one-off mentoring sessions aimed at learning a key piece of information of skill
  2. Matched Mentoring, an adminstrator matches mentors and mentees for a 6-month period
  3. Group Mentoring, where one mentor works with several mentees in a group


What is a mentor?

a mentor helps someone develop his or her goals and skills through a series of time-limited, confidential, one-on-one conversations and other learning activities. In short, they take a special interest in helping another person develop into a successful professional.

Within the IDS Alumni Network Mentoring & Advice Programme all Mentors, whether they are Online Mentors (as part of Ask An Alum), Matched Mentors (as part of Matched Mentoring) or Group Mentors (as part of Group Mentoring) they will all be: 

  • Motivating and empowering
  • Willing to share their own expertise and experiences where relevant
  • Supportive in your work for professional development
  • Following the IDS code of conduct and (where relevant) a mentoring agreement

Mentoring isn’t coaching or training

A mentor is sometimes confused with a coach or trainer, here are some of the differences to help you. There are also some online videos about this which you might find useful.
Money - a coach or trainer is paid, whereas a mentor is a volunteer, a mentor's reward is altruistic.
Outcomes – coaches help with specific problems, mentoring is more relationship focussed
Time – coaching is time bound, either by a deadline or an outcome. A mentoring relationship is bound by time, but it can be re-started at anytime and isn’t constrained by a set time period. A mentoring relationship can last years or it could be one Skype call.

Reward is altruistic   Paid for their time
Guided by time, but not time bound   Time bound, around a deadline or outcome
Relationship focussed   Structured around a specific, short-term problem
Agenda set by mentee, they are responsible for cultivating and driving the relationship   Coach directs the learning of the student. Focussing on immediate goals


Mentoring isn’t passive

Mentoring requires conscious effort and commitment from all involved. Mentees and mentors should think about goal setting (think SMART), frequent communication, and a desire to learn and connect with each other.

Mentoring isn’t therapy or counselling

A great mentor will give advice on tough professional (and potentially personal) situations like job struggles and troubles, but it is important to not treat your mentor like a therapist. (If, as a mentor, you are worried about your mentees well-being or mental health please contact the IDS alumni office ).

Consistent positivity should be the basis of mentoring, concentrating on moving forward and making progress, not dwelling on issues and troubles.

Many of us need a therapist type person in our lives but this is not the role of your mentor.It is not productive or inspiring for mentor or mentee to try and include this as part of a mentoring relationship.

Mentoring isn’t a one way street

A mentor isn’t omniscient and you will learn from each other.  We all lean on each other for specific knowledge, expertise, networks and all important soft skills, and both mentor and mentee will want to contribute, connect, and share valuable information.

Mentoring isn’t a cure all/your mentor is not a fairy godperson

Mentors can’t magically grant wishes.  But they can do amazing things for you, they can

  • Increase your careers prospects
  • Increase confidence
  • Help with transitions like relocation or career changes
  • Increase leadership

It is important for all parties to remember that success and progress are a product of all the aspects of your life and are guided by a desire to change and progress.

[Guidance produced with thanks to Mentoring Loop and SACAP]

Further Information:

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