December 2016

An introduction to mentoring

  • By Dr Ali Burston, Organisational Psychologist, Metisphere

Fostering a mentoring relationship can have positive career benefits for both mentors and mentees

What is mentoring?

Mentoring involves a partnership between a less-experienced individual (the mentee) and a more-experienced individual (the mentor) where the purpose is the personal and/or professional growth of the mentee. Although the goals of the mentoring relationship may differ across both settings and relationships, nearly all partnerships involve the acquisition of knowledge (Allen and Eby, 2007).

Mentoring has been of interest to the business community since the 1970s after claims that it contributed to the success of very senior executives (Gibb, 2008). These early mentoring relationships developed informally through mutual interest. Since then, mentoring has undergone considerable research as organisations and industry groups have created structured mentoring systems to leverage off these advantages.

Mentoring is sometimes confused with other types of developmental activities. In particular, the distinction between coaching and mentoring is often ambiguous. Coaching is a short-term, task-focused intervention designed to teach skills and improve performance in order to take on new responsibility (Harvard Business School, 2004). In contrast, mentoring relationships are generally longer term, are focused on strategic career progression and incorporate a holistic approach to the mentee’s professional and personal development.

On a professional level, mentors provide career advice and guidance. If a mentor and mentee both work for the same organisation, the mentor may actively support their mentee by recommending them for particular assignments or introducing them to more senior members of the organisation, commonly known as ‘sponsoring’ (Ghosh and Reio, 2013). Where a mentor and mentee work for different organisations, mentors provide external objective advice by sharing the benefits of their own experiences and industry knowledge and suggesting specific career strategies to assist the mentee in developing relevant skills and knowledge (Ghosh
and Reio, 2013).

On a personal level, a mentor can provide a source of psychosocial support that contributes to the mentee’s sense of professional effectiveness, identity and competence (Ghosh and Reio, 2013). Mentors provide a source of support through success and failure, are a sounding board for ideas and can act as a role model for the mentee to emulate (Ghosh and Reio, 2013). Given the right motivation, mentors can benefit greatly from sharing advice and guidance with a less-experienced person.

Types of mentoring

Mentoring in business or industry can involve different formats, including self-directed (informal) or participating in a structured program (formal). However, in both formats, the focus is on the mentee, their career and support for individual growth and maturity.

Self-directed (informal) mentoring relationships generally develop between a mentor and mentee due to mutual interest, respect and friendship (Inzer and Crawford, 2005). The quality of the mentoring relationship is related to mentee benefits, so it is not surprising that informal relationships, sustained by mutual interest from both parties, are more often associated with optimal outcomes (Gilmore, Coetzee and Schreuder, 2005).

Structured (formal) mentoring relationships involve participating in an industry-led or organisational mentoring program (Inzer and Crawford, 2005) typically designed to meet organisational or industry-wide objectives (Parise and Forett, 2008). Structured programs may include training and specific goal setting and may mandate meeting frequency and program duration. Structured mentoring programs clarify the roles of mentors and mentees and can include a training component (Allen, Eby and Lentz, 2006; Eby and Lockwood, 2005). Structured mentoring programs also control the matching process, so while it may take longer to establish a new and trusting relationship initially, structured mentoring can have very positive outcomes if it is managed in a professional manner.

How can having a mentor be beneficial throughout my career?

In a business context, a mentor is an experienced individual that offers information, advice and guidance for the mentee’s personal and professional development (Harvard Business School, 2004). The role of a mentor is likely to vary over an individual’s career in line with common developmental tasks in each career stage (Isabella, 1988). For example, the benefits of having a mentor in the following career stages can be defined as follows.


The most important tasks for students are to discover their particular interests, skills and aptitudes and choose a career direction (Hess and Jepsen, 2009). Mentors may be able to assist with questions such as:

  • What is a mining cycle?
  • What are the advantages/disadvantages of working on-site?
  • What is it really like to work as a (insert role here)?
  • Are you able to provide feedback on my résumé?

By sharing their own journey and work experiences, mentors give students a realistic preview of a profession and industry and can suggest strategies to enter a particular career pathway. Mentors may also be able to alert students to vacation/apprentice opportunities or recommend them for casual work or junior roles in an organisation.

Early career stage (1-5 years into career)

In the early career stage, individuals are creating their professional identity, developing technical competence in their role and building the political skills to successfully negotiate the world of work (Isabella, 1988). At this career stage, mentors may be able to assist with questions such as:

  • What are the advantages/disadvantages of working on-site and when should I transition?
  • What industry groups will provide the best networking opportunities for me?
  • What does my ‘future self’ look like?
  • When is a good time to pursue further study?

Mentors can provide advice to young professionals on how to manage challenging situations and provide insight into the ‘unwritten rules’ of an organisation, profession or industry.

Young professional (5-10 years into career)

Once technical skills are established, individuals frequently want their expertise recognised and strive for career progression, which often has to be balanced with family and personal commitments (Isabella, 1988). Working remotely, doing long hours and being on a ‘fly-in, fly-out’  roster are common in the mining sector but may impose additional challenges on individuals and relationships (Pirotta, 2009). At this career stage, mentors may be able to assist with questions such as:

  • How can I develop the best relationship with my superintendent?
  • How do I work effectively with different personalities in my team?
  • How do I find stability in an unsettled climate?
  • When do I know if I am on the right track – am I doing what I like doing now?

A mentor can provide empathy and practical strategies to address career issues and enhance an individual’s ability to adapt and cope with the unique challenges posed by the mining industry.

Mid-point (10-20 years into career)

For individuals at the mid-point of their career, there may be a choice of becoming a technical specialist in their field or moving into more senior management or corporate roles, such as project management or business improvement. While being mentored themselves, individuals at the mid-point of their career may also be mentoring less-experienced mentees. In this career stage, mentors may be able to assist with questions such as:

  • When is a good time to pursue further study, for example an MBA?
  • When should I review my short- and long-term goals?
  • What type of satisfaction could I receive from volunteering in my community?
  • Am I making a difference?

Mentors may assist mentees in developing the strategic thinking, commercial awareness and financial knowledge necessary for senior managerial or executive board roles.

Mature (20+ years into career)

Individuals that are well-established in their profession and looking towards the end of their career may reflect on their career journey, examine their priorities and have an increased focus on developing others and giving back to the industry (Isabella, 1988). At this career stage, very senior mentors may be able to assist with questions such as:

  • How has my career strategy played out? What has and what hasn’t worked?
  • How have I achieved my goals and what can I pass on to young professionals?
  • Am I interested in seeking new Board positions or enhancing community engagement?
  • Do I have a strong social and professional network?
  • What are the advantages of being a mentee?

As the purpose of mentoring is to develop personal and/or professional growth in a mentee, there are numerous advantages to sourcing a mentor. Some opportunities that are made available by seeking a mentor include:

  • develop strategic career planning techniques and the facilitation of career goal achievement (Gilmore, Coetzee and Schreuder, 2005)
  • learn from a mentor’s industry experiences, particularly how to work through mining cycles and become adaptable in a role
  • learn from a more experienced person about success, sustainability and adaptability
  • learn about self-promotion and capitalise on a mentor’s networks (to enhance the mentee’s own networks)
  • work through organisational topics such as conflict resolution, workplace politics and a changing workforce.As a result of these opportunities for growth, research has confirmed that mentees receive numerous personal and professional benefits, including:
  • greater job satisfaction (Allen et al, 2004)
  • lower levels of work stress (Allen et al, 2004)
  • higher self-esteem (Allen et al, 2004)
  • increased technical and behavioural competence (Gilmore, Coetzee and Schreuder, 2005)
  • increased confidence (Gilmore, Coetzee and Schreuder, 2005).


The greatest benefits of mentoring result from a high-quality relationship between mentor and mentee (Ragins, Cotton and Miller, 2000). When approaching a mentoring partnership, mentees should be prepared to listen, reflect, discuss and learn from an experienced professional. Importantly, mentees must respect and appreciate their mentor’s time and efforts (Harvard Business School 2004; Wallace and Gravells, 2007).

What are the advantages of being a mentor?

Mentors play a crucial role in the lives of their mentees, organisation, profession and industry through their development of the next generation of high-performing professionals. Becoming a mentor offers many opportunities for personal and professional growth, including:

  • learn more about personal strengths and areas for development
  • engage with the next generation and keep abreast of changing workplace values, culture and technology
  • share experiences, tell stories and provide guidance to a less-experienced person
  • create pathways for a less-experienced person that contain clarity, transparency and are sustainable
  • share networks and provide new prospects.
  • As a result of these opportunities for growth, research has confirmed that mentors receive numerous personal and professional benefits, including:
  • enhanced job satisfaction (Ghosh and Reio, 2013)
  • enhanced organisational commitment (Ghosh and Reio, 2013)
  • an intrinsically rewarding experience in watching others develop with the knowledge that they have contributed to a mentee’s success (Allen, 2003; Parise and Forret, 2008)
  • enhanced leadership skills (Allen and Eby, 2007)
  • higher work performance (Ghosh and Reio, 2013).

Mentors can be of any age, but are recommended to be experienced and influential and have a history of success in their field (Conway, 1998; Delahaye, 2011; Otto, 1994). When approaching a mentoring partnership, mentors will need to develop rapport, trust and confidence in their mentee to ensure positive outcomes for both parties.
To purchase mentoring webinars presented by Dr Ali Burston, visit


Allen T D, 2003. Mentoring others: a dispositional and motivational approach, Journal of Vocational Behavior, 62(1):134–154.

Allen T D and Eby L T, 2007. The Blackwell Handbook of Mentoring: A Multiple Perspectives Approach (Blackwell Publishing Ltd: Hoboken).

Allen T D, Eby L T and Lentz E, 2006. Mentorship behaviors and mentorship quality associated with formal mentoring programs: closing the gap between research and practice, Journal of Applied Psychology, 91:567–578.

Allen T D, Eby L T, Poteet M L, Lentz E and Lima L, 2004. Career benefits associated with mentoring for proteges: a meta-analysis, Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(1):127–136.

Conway C, 1998. Strategies for Mentoring: A Blueprint for Successful Organizational Development (John Wiley & Sons Ltd: Chichester).

Delahaye B, 2011. Human Resource Development: Managing Learning and Knowledge Capital, third edition (Tilde University Press: Melbourne).

Eby L T and Lockwood A, 2005. Protégés and mentors reactions to participating in formal mentoring programs: a qualitative investigation, Journal of Vocational Behavior, 67:441–458.

Ghosh R and Reio T G, 2013. Career benefits associated with mentoring for mentors: a meta-analysis, Journal of Vocational Behavior, 83(1): 106–116.

Gibb S, 2008. Human Resource Development: Process, Practices and Perspectives, second edition (Palgrave Macmillan: New York).

Gilmore N, Coetzee M and Schreuder D, 2005. Experiences of the mentoring relationship: a study in a mining company, SA Journal of Human Resource Management, 3(3):27–32.

Harvard Business School, 2004. Coaching and Mentoring: How to Develop Top Talent and Achieve Stronger Performance (Harvard Business School Publishing: Boston).

Hess N and Jepsen D M, 2009. Career stage and generational differences in psychological contracts, Career Development International, 14(3):261–283.

Inzer L D and Crawford C B, 2005. A review of formal and informal mentoring: processes, problems, and design, Journal of Leadership Education, 4(1):31–50.

Isabella L A, 1988. The effect of career stage on the meaning of key organizational events, Journal of Organizational Behavior, 9(4):345–358.

Otto M L, 1994. Mentoring: an adult developmental perspective, in Mentoring Revisited: Making an Impact on Individuals and Institutions, (ed: M A Wunsch) (Jossey-Bass Publishers: San Francisco).

Parise M R and Forret M L, 2008. Formal mentoring programs: the relationship of program design and support to mentors’ perceptions of benefits and costs, Journal of Vocational Behavior, 72(2):225–240.

Pirotta J, 2009. An exploration of the experiences of women who FIFO, The Australian Community Psychologist, 21(2):37–51.

Ragins B R, Cotton J L and Miller J S, 2000. Marginal mentoring: the effects of type of mentor, quality of relationship, and program design on work and career attitudes, Academy of Management Journal, 43(6):1177–1194.

Wallace S and Gravells J, 2007. Mentoring, second edition (Learning Matters: Exeter).

Share This Article