Mentor Recruitment

Picking a Road to Success

Picking a Road to Success

This document is for the review and inspiration of those who want to recruit and develop their own mentor community. No mentoring program can succeed without an adequate and regular supply of potential mentors. A shortage of mentors can mean long lists of mentees waiting to be matched, less effective matches due to a lack of appropriate choices, longer program cycle times, plus little flexibility in reassigning participants whose matches end prematurely.

In spite of recruitment’s clear importance, many mentoring programs may initially struggle to build up their mentor community. This can be for many reasons, including: a lack of resources, a shortage of qualified potential mentors in a particular community or professional area, or even challenges in meeting the learning needs of diverse groups. If a mentoring program is going to meet its goals, it must carefully plan and coordinate recruiting.

For an ongoing program, mentor recruitment must be regular, even continuous. Recruiting mentors is about making personal connections, even when using mass-marketing strategies. This is a summary of how you can focus program’s potential mentor search, and build a framework for recruitment success.


  1. The Importance of Targeted Recruitment
  2. Someone Like Me
  3. What Do Mentors Do?
  4. Best Practices
  5. Principles of Effective Mentor Recruitment
  6. Build a Foundation for Recruiting
  7. In Their Own Words
  8. References

1. The Importance of Targeted Recruitment
A mentoring program cannot do its good work without mentors, so there is an obvious need to simply provide adequate numbers and choices when mentors are needed. But good recruitment goes beyond numbers. Targeted recruitment: recruitment that is focused on particular professional attributes, makes it more likely not only that your program will hit its benchmarks, but that the types of individuals you recruit will also be up to the task.

An intake process for potential mentors must be designed to identify likely stars as well as screen out unsuitable participants. People are unsuitable when they do not have the time, personality, values, capabilities, or commitment to serve as a professional mentor. Your program can save time and program resources by being intentional about who gets recruited in the first place. It is important to understand who your potential mentors are and how to communicate with them most effectively.

Key criteria for good potential mentors include:

  • Mentor’s time availability to serve in that particular program, and their flexibility to accommodate a mentee’s schedule.
  • Personal and professional accomplishments, values, experience, seniority, capabilities, skills, and potential.
  • Intellectual or professional interests.
  • Personal style and communication (including spoken languages abilities and writing skills).
  • Type of business, industry area, or professional specialty they work in.

2. Someone Like Me
Mentor recruitment can be used to support and promote diversity among participants in a mentoring program, in addition to other goals. Many mentees join a program thoughtfully or unconsciously looking for a mentor who is “someone like me” – a person like themselves in a particular way. That is, a mentor with whom the mentee feels commonality and shared values and vision. Seeking “someone like me” can cover a broad range of characteristics: experience, specific skills, age, gender, nationality, language, ethnicity, rank or status, professional focus, etc.

A mentoring system should be designed to make the best possible match among available participants. A successful program needs to include a wide variety of mentors available that can connect with mentees. Engaging many social networks and professional groups, including geographic, ethnic, gender-based and other affinity groups increases your potential for successful mentor recruiting.

3. What Do Mentors Do?
One of the most frequent questions asked by potential mentors during the recruiting process is “What do mentors do?”

Mentors advise and inspire.  In short, practical terms:

  • Mentors make introductions.
  • Mentors give recommendations to resources.
  • Mentors give feedback for the mentee to consider.

Mentoring is usually a relationship of two individuals where one is senior in his or her experience and understanding (having Wisdom Authority) but each learns from the other in the areas of career and/or personal growth. The relationship is not one of hierarchical authority, that is the mentee does not report to the mentor in a management chain. The mentor provides recommendations on which road to take, references, and feedback to the mentee during a relationship usually lasting less than a year.

In more detail: a professional mentor recommends training and experiences, makes introductions to other people the mentee may learn from, provides continuing advice, assistance and support, and evaluates progress. In some programs, mentors advise or work together on projects with mentees. Mentors are often asked to support the development of the mentee’s “soft” skills, such as: public presentation / speaking, negotiating, conflict management, and coaching. The mentor must respond promptly to their mentee (giving them priority access), and make time in their schedule – in accordance with the design of the program (usually about 4 hours a month).

Please read: “Expert Mentoring Advice: Best Practices, Worst Practices” and “Mentoring vs. Coaching vs. Sponsorship” to learn more.

Many Roads to Get There

Many Roads to Get There

Some common topics discussed by mentors and mentees include:

  • Regular projects/work or joint special projects.
  • Setting goals (short or long term).
  • Finding the best road to success.
  • Homework from Mentor: people to contact, reading material, etc.
  • Industry current events or trends.
  • Soft skills development: negotiating, public speaking, conflict management, etc.
  • Career development.
  • Personal development.

In a professional setting, the mentor’s job is to help their mentee achieve the goals they have identified that will help them move their career forward. The mentor’s role is to:

  • Support and guide without offering easy answers.
  • Challenge and offer hard truths without judging.
  • Help the mentee draw out the knowledge the mentor has that is most likely to help the mentee succeed.
  • Guide their mentee to develop their own conclusions.
  • Be a powerful listener who can feed back what they hear to the mentee, sometimes re-stating or paraphrasing what they have heard in their own words, to confirm what they have heard and moreover, to confirm the understanding of both parties.

The mentor and mentee must both agree upon a level of confidentiality – and maintain that during their time together. Both participants must follow the terms and conditions of the program, respond promptly to the mentoring program manager – and give program feedback as requested.

4. Best Practices
Experience and research have shown that some mentor recruitment methods are more consistently successful than others. Three of the best methods are:

4A. Consider mentor motivation. The mentoring programs that are most successful are those that identify their potential mentors’ motivations and beliefs and speak to them directly during recruitment messages. In addition to speaking to motivations and beliefs, recruiting messaging should indicate that mentors often gain tangible benefits from their mentoring experience. In fact, in the short term, mentors frequently get even more out of the relationship than do their mentees.

Experienced mentors routinely cite a small number of qualitative benefits for participation, including:

  • Developing coaching skills (particularly in leadership development and soft skills).
  • Extending their networks, including new knowledge of their own organization.
  • Gaining new understanding on the most effective way to work, especially with regard to how technology functions in the workplace (closing a common knowledge gap).
  • The tangible benefit and satisfaction of giving time to help others.

4B. Broad communication coverage is a key strategy for mentor recruitment. Successful communication methods include:

  • Creating and announcing web-based and paper-based materials specific to the program: giving details, providing background, describing next steps for interested participants.
  • Distributing leadership statements of endorsement and encouragement to participate. These can be in email, video, web-based interviews or discussions, posters, newsletters or internal memoranda (depending on the communication preferences, traditions, and style of the organization).
  • Setting up in-person meetings, conference calls and webinars. These should feature enthusiastic endorsements by senior leaders and mentors who share their positive past experiences with mentoring and expectations for program success.
  • Connecting with professional groups as well as social networks. Consider what professional associations your target potential mentors might join (and with which you could advertise), for example:
    • IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) and ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) – for Engineers.
    • SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) and ATD (American Society for Training and Development) – for Human Resources professionals.
    • AAE (Association of American Educators) and NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) – for Teachers

Online recruiting is also an excellent way to gain visibility – placing an advertisement on professional social media websites like LinkedIn.

4C. Mentors respond best to a direct personal appeal. The majority of mentors get involved because they were directly invited to, or because of their association with a team, group, or organization that is already engaged.

  • Word-of-mouth is a common and successful recruitment method. A direct appeal for help, especially from within a peer or social group, is often the best way to invite mentors.
  • Inviting early participation from an admired group, or selected highly regarded individuals, will successfully engage more potential mentors.
  • If this program is based on a successful mentoring pilot, successful participants in the pilot will be some of the most effective evangelists for inviting serious consideration by potential mentors.

5. Principles of Effective Mentor Recruitment
What makes a successful mentor recruitment effort is not just the specific strategy or the amount of money spent. It’s also the attitudes, personalities, structure, and diligence behind the effort. While planning and strategies are important, good mentoring recruitment is always in the doing, not just the planning.

5A. Mentor recruitment is part of everything your program does. Not all recruitment happens within the context of a plan. Mentor recruitment is just as likely to happen in a casual conversation at the grocery store or at a party hosted by one of your mentors on a Saturday afternoon, as at formal meetings or the official kickoff event. An invitation to mentor can be extended at any time, anywhere. Every time you interact with a program participant or a potential mentor, whether through an announcement, a marketing campaign, or a personal conversation, you are leaving an impression about your program.

Successful mentor recruitment is an outcome of overall program quality. Simply put, if yours is a well-run, professional program, recruitment will be easier because those qualities will shine through in everything you do. Potential mentors will feel positive about participating in what you are doing, believing that their experience with you will be a good one.

Everyone (staff and executive champions, former and current participants) contributes to successful recruitment. While most recruitment efforts in mentoring programs fall on the shoulders of program staff, almost every person your program touches has a role to play in making recruitment effective. Your program champions and stakeholders – and mentors who have already participated successfully in your program – will be some of the most effective evangelists for mentoring.

5B. Be realistic. One of the biggest mistakes mentoring programs make is overestimating the recruitment success they will have, especially in new or “start-up” programs. This is a common problem for programs operating on grant, corporate social responsibility donations, or foundation dollars. In an effort to secure funding, program proposals can promise unrealistic numbers of matches. Staff can become discouraged when benchmarks – realistic or otherwise — are not met. Mentoring programs that start small (and plan to grow incrementally as your organization’s culture of mentoring develops) are more likely to succeed over time.

Keep in mind that becoming a mentor is about the most intense professional commitment you can ask someone to make. Many people you talk to will not have the time, personality, values, capabilities or commitment to serve as a professional mentor. Don’t expect or promise miracles. The goal is not perfection but improvement.

5C. Properly fund and staff recruitment tasks. Mentor recruitment involves developing professional communication materials, making extensive personal contacts, working out of the office, and making public appearances. But recruitment will be a much easier if you make sure those responsible have sufficient time and resources for the tasks.

5D. Track your efforts – quantification. How are people finding you? What’s working? Are potential mentors connecting with your messages and motivations? The easiest way to track this is to have a “how did you hear about us?” question on your mentor applications and to ask it of those who contact you by phone or email. Tracking website hits, dissemination of print materials, and how many potential mentors current participants bring into the fold can also help.

Regardless of how you quantify your efforts, your recruitment plan should build in periodic points where you review how each strategy is working and retool accordingly.

5E. Recruit two to one minimum. In designing a program where one mentor is matched to one mentee, consider how many mentees you want to serve in each cohort, then double that number for your pool of potential mentors. Even though your program focuses on recruiting for particular attributes, mentees may best be served by offering a combination of additional mentor characteristics (experience, specific skills, age, gender, nationality, language, ethnicity, rank or status, professional focus, etc.). Larger numbers of potential mentors will allow for these combinations. Providing at least a two to one ratio in the available mentor community will give your program a higher potential for participant satisfaction and success.

6. Build a Foundation for Recruiting
Now that you have considered both mentor recruiting practices and organizing principles, it’s time to start your real preparation work. Understanding mentors’ roles, responsibilities, and expectations (and how program success will be measured) will provide a solid foundation for your recruiting.

6A. Measurement and Evaluation: A key step in preparing to recruit is thinking again about what the mentoring program has been designed to achieve and how its success will be measured. Not only will this consideration help in targeting your recruitment more effectively but some potential mentors will certainly ask!

NCWIT’s 2011 publication “Evaluating a Mentoring Program Guide” is a good source of detailed analysis and advice on measurement and evaluation. Key steps include:

  • Identify the primary purpose for the evaluation.
  • Determine (or revisit) program goals, measurable outcomes, and appropriate metrics.
  • Determine your data collection and evaluation method.

6B. Understanding Potential Mentors: Although it is focused on youth mentoring, The US Department of Education’s Mentoring Resource Center 2006 publication “Effective Mentor Recruitment: Getting Organized, Getting Results” includes extensive information and advice on how best to consider who the potential mentors are for your program. Topics include:

Find a Path Around Barriers

Find a Path Around Barriers

  • Determine whom you want to serve as mentors.
  • Develop a formal mentor job description.
  • Inventory potential recruitment locations.
  • Inventory potential mentor motivations.
  • Analyze potential recruitment barriers and plan your response.
  • Have your policies and procedures in place and ready to use.

7. In Their Own Words
Sometimes understanding other mentors’ experiences can be a powerful motivator for a potential mentor to accept your program’s invitation.

What technical executive mentors said in “Sun Mentoring: 1996-2009” about why they serve:

  • A mentor who had turned down several mentee requests wrote when he did accept someone: “I’ve been struggling with this however I’ve (finally) decided that I want to do it. I’ve asked other people for help along these lines so I guess it’s time for me to give a little back.”
  • An Engineering Vice President mentor who had already served in several programs wrote in his first email to his newest mentoring partner: “I look forward to our relationship. This will be a good experience for both of us. I will learn some and you will learn some, it is up to us to make the most out of it.”
  • A Distinguished Engineer wrote: “This is a very worthwhile program that I’m pleased to be able to participate in. In the two times I’ve participated as a mentor I’ve gotten at least as much out of the experience as the mentee.”

8. References

Adapted from a 2014 work by Katy Dickinson while at Everwise, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

This document was originally published as part of “Mentoring in a Box” in 2014. The version you see here is an extended version of that material.

Published as a Mentoring Standard web page: 15 Sep 2015.
More: Research and Publications