Mentor guidelines

What is a Mentor?

The word Mentor comes from the Greek language and means a wise guide. Traditionally, a mentor was an older, more experienced person, who became responsible for grooming a younger person to fill a role. From the Middle Ages art, craft and commerce were learned in a master/apprentice relationship, e.g. a shoemaker training another in the art of making shoes. Still today apprentices learn a trade/job skills from those more experienced than themselves.

A mentor takes on a more challenging role than the master/apprentice relationship. A mentor will, hopefully, be both a friend and a role model to the mentee at a time in his/her life when the influence of peers is of the utmost importance.

The Mentor IS

a friend — a motivator — a guide — a companion — a resource — a confidant — a listener — a cheerleader — a supporter — an advocate — an advisor — a sounding-board — a networker — a negotiator — a role model

The Mentor IS NOT

a trained counsellor — a therapist — a saviour — a cool peer — a parole officer — a foster parent — a bank/ATM machine — a mentees scheming sidekick — a mentees private secretary — a taxi — a social worker — a personal adviser — a parent — a baby sitter — a disciplinarian — a psychologist — a psychiatrist — a nag

Source: Cox, Robin: What is a Mentor? 2008

Mentor Guidelines

The goal of the any Mentoring Program is to encourage and support young professionals who are still in training or beginning new positions.

One of the key factors in achievement is having productive relationships with mentors.

Experienced mentors can provide valuable information and advice on how to make the most of your learning experiences and what to expect in a new position or developing a project. While mentors may provide much of this critical information, it is important that mentees have a balanced perspective from the larger community and even from outside their specific discipline.

It is anticipated that as a mentor you will share your experiences and advice on such topics as:

  • career advancement
  • grant applications
  • enhancing professional visibility
  • networking with other practitioners
  • overcoming barriers to career success
  • specialist technical advice

Mentors can often help in dealing with other topics such as meshing career and personal life and changing career paths.

Successful mentoring involves a dynamic process whereby each participant learns to respect and trust the partner’s commitment, expertise, and individuality. A firm commitment to the mentoring process and a willingness to invest time and energy are the most important components for a successful relationship.

Mentoring is in many ways an elusive concept and an individual process. Every pair is unique because each person’s experience, personality and professional development track is different. Although both people involved begin the process with expectations about how the relationship will develop, it is often wise to consider establishing a discrete time period as a trial basis for you and your mentor. A specific time frame will enable the two of you to determine whether the mentoring relationship is working and may help minimise any misunderstandings. Following are some guidelines for mentors to consider in fostering an effective mentoring relationship.


The goal of the Mentoring Program is ideally achieved in the setting of your mentees increasing participation in the industry that is most appropriate for his/her career. Thus, your mentee should be encouraged to join the appropriate organisation and attend meetings and events (e.g. film screening, networking events) on a regular basis. This is also a very good opportunity for you and your mentee to interact personally, over coffee or lunch, at theatrical of filmic events or at workshops on career development. Other ways for you to interact with your mentee include email and phone. Encourage your mentee to attend, if possible, specialty meetings in his/her discipline and other events that would help advance his/her career, such as workshops.

Take the initiative in the relationship. Invite your mentee to talk, suggest topics to discuss, and ask if you can offer advice. Ask about and encourage accomplishments and ask if you can make a suggestion or offer criticism. Your perspective on all aspects of a career in the industry are very valuable.

Respect your mentees time as much as you respect your own. Be explicit about your own needs and limits, specifying times you wish not to be disturbed or ones that are particularly good for communication. On the other hand, your mentee may also have commitments and times during particular projects when he/she is not available. The use of email greatly alleviates having to set a specific time to talk.

Be explicit with your mentee that you are only offering suggestions and that they should be weighed along with advice received from other mentors. You should be encouraging your mentee to seek out advice from others, depending on the particular project.

Make only positive or neutral comments about your mentee to others. Your mentee must trust that anything said to you will be held in the strictest of confidence unless instructed otherwise. One never knows where a mentee could end up!

If your mentee is interested, consider discussing how you have been able to balance work with personal life demands. Junior practitioners often find this a difficult issue and set unrealistic expectations for themselves and their personal lives. They appreciate hearing a senior colleague’s thoughts and experiences.

It is important not to confuse positive communication with a need for unwarranted praise or flattery. A mentor’s job is not always to praise the work of the mentee. In fact, mentors who do not offer critical but constructive feedback may actually provide a disservice to the person they are trying to help. Offer criticism gently and without fear of offending. While accepting constructive criticism is an important lesson to be learned by all mentees, giving it is a lesson that mentors must master to become successful in the role.

When criticism is offered, it should be followed by constructive advice for improvement. If possible, specific examples should be offered. Try to avoid offering advice in a way that would intimidate your young colleague from best availing his/herself of your expertise. Itís not a bad idea to allow the mentee to think about your comments for some period of time and then come back together to discuss them.

If, after a period of time, you don’t believe that either you or your mentee are able to participate in an effective mentoring relationship, then don’t be averse to discussing this with your mentee and possibly ending the relationship. If the relationship does end, if at all possible, try to end it on professional terms. It is no reflection on either of you if a particular pair isn’t suitable.

Based on these guidelines your mentee should reasonably expect that you be in regular contact, provide career planning advice, keep confidences between the two of you, follow through on commitments, and be caring while giving honest feedback.

Tips on Interaction

When setting a date for the first meeting or contact, both members of the newly matched pair should arrange to exchange copies of their curriculum vitae beforehand, so each will have them on hand for the first discussion. The mentees CV is helpful for you to begin a constructive review of their career at that point, and to suggest some goals for the immediate future. Your CV provides a base with which you can point out key steps in you career that were particularly valuable along the career path.

Second, the mentor should ask the mentee to share his/her goals for the upcoming year as well as more long-term goals, as a starting point for discussion.

The exact nature of subsequent meetings, including their topic and duration, will vary from pair to pair.

For the majority of people, phone or email will be the most effective, regardless of where the two people live. In most circumstances, email probably will be the most effective way for mentor and mentee to stay in touch with a minimum of formality and time spent. However, it is important to also set aside a specific time or times to interact during appropriate meetings (e.g., observation of production processes), both because it may be a rare opportunity to interact in person and because this provides the mentee an opportunity to network with other practitioners through your tutelage.

Events such as screening and networking opportunities are good ways for you to introduce the mentee to other practitioners with whom the mentee may not normally have the opportunity to meet and interact with. However, it is important for the mentee to understand that you have other demands on your time during the meeting. This is why specifying ahead of time a particular time and place for at least one face-to-face meeting is important.

Potential Pitfalls

There are at least four areas that need particular attention in any mentoring relationship.

Limited Time Studies have found that finding the time and energy for mentoring pairs to get together is a great obstacle. Take advantage of email, telephone, etc., as ways of staying in touch. Email especially allows for relatively short but more frequent contact between the participants.Lack of Knowledge/Skills After you have accepted a role as a mentor, you may discover that there is not really the common ground between the two of you that was expected or that the mentee wants assistance in an area in which you do not feel particularly competent to advise. In this situation, you can feel free to either contact someone else or assist your mentee in locating others whose expertise may be more helpful for his/her specific need. Encourage your mentee to be open to taking the initiative to find another person to get a different point-of-view in a particular area.

Project/Task Control It is important to remember that the role of the mentor is to guide and advise the mentee. However, it is all too easy to take control of a project because of the mentor’s high level of expertise and previous experiences. While the mentee needs to develop the ability to take the mentors advice on board, it is also important that they have the confidence to discuss alternative strategies.

Over-dependence Over-dependence can go in either direction in a mentoring relationship. However, it is not wise for a mentee to become over-dependent on you as a mentor. It is helpful for you to encourage your junior colleague to have other mentors and to eventually anticipate the end of the formal mentoring relationship. It should be everyone’s goal to eventually become full-fledged colleagues, although it’s always nice for the former mentee to have someone to go to for advice at any time in the future.

It is important that both mentees and mentors always consider whether a mentoring match may have served its useful purpose. It is better to part company on amicable terms than to struggle with a relationship without a firm foundation. The EAT Mentoring Coordinator is available throughout the process to discuss progress.

Source: American Physiological Society, Guide for Mentors