Choosing a Mentor

Posted on March 1, 2013 by


Mentoring is one the primary means for individuals to learn new skills, develop self-efficacy, build networks and assimilate into new situations.  “Mentoring is often described as a symbiotic relationship between two adults who assist each other to meet mutual career objectives in an organization or professional discipline” (Haines, 2003).  When effective, the mentor is able to teach, sponsor, encourage, counsel and provide candid constructive developmental feedback. Because of the intrinsic personal and career value mentors can provide, it is important that a protegé actively engage the mentor and own the mentoring relationship.

Research has identified several factors that precipitate an effective mentor-protegé  relationship.  These include relational connection, admiration, ability to facilitate transition/assimilation into professional or social networks, and advocacy and sponsorship (Ferguson, 2011; Haines, 2003; Tracy, 2008).

Relational Connection

Seek a mentor that you feel a relational connection with, a mentor that is receptive to the idea of being a mentor and willing to developing a relationship with you.  Ferguson (2011) noted that mentor relationships develop based on the connection between protegés and their mentors.  Haines (2003) also noted that the relational connection helped the effectiveness of the mentor in providing affirmations and coaching.  Perceived compatibility draws protegés to mentors and provides the foundation upon which trust and the mentor relationship are build, allowing the protegé to be both open and receptive to feedback (Ferguson, 2011).


Seek out individuals that you admire as potential mentors. “Effective mentoring relationships are made by choice and based on mutual respect” (Haines, 2003).  Ferguson (2011) found that in successful mentor relationships, the protegé both admired and respected the mentor.  The mentor represented the protegé’s aspirations  in terms of knowledge, skills, and behavior (Ferguson, 2011).  As such, the protegé hopes to develop similar knowledge, skills and behaviors as they are perceived as being the traits of success.

Ability to Facilitate Transition/Assimilation into Professional or Social Networks

Seek a mentor that can help you learn the intangible dynamics of the organization or social network.  Mentors are able to help protegés become more integrated into the organizational or social network by teaching organizational culture – history, traditions and expected behaviors (Ferguson, 2011; Haines, 2003).  By helping the protegé find his or her path into the organization or network, the mentor is able to ease the transition and provide continuous support while further strengthening trust.

Advocacy and Sponsorship

Seek a mentor who is well-respected in the organization as such a person will likely be in a position to sponsor /advocate for you.  Such a mentor should willingly want to sponsor or advocate for a protegé by using positional power to validate or vouch for the protegé’s ability and potentially influence the trajectory of the protegé’s career path (Ferguson, 2011; Haines, 2003; Tracy, 2008).  The mentor has intimate knowledge of the protegé and can make recommendations for positions, special assignments, and any other opportunity.  Additionally, the mentor can protect, shield or provide a buffer from factors that could negatively impact the protegé’s career.  To be effective or successful, the protegé must be engaged in honest, direct communication with the mentor, accept and act upon feedback, and demonstrate a willingness to develop (Ferguson, 2011; Haines, 2003; Tracy, 2008).

Mentors are volunteers who use their knowledge, experience and position within the organization to develop new talent. Seek individuals who’s abilities align with your needs.  The diligence upfront will increase the effectiveness of the relationship for both the mentor and the protegé.

Ferguson, L.M. (2011). From the perspective of new nurses: What do effective mentors look like in practice? Nurse Education in Practice, 11, 119-123. DOI:10.1016/j.mepr.2010.11.003

Haines, S.T. (2003).  The Mentor-Protegé Relationship.  American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 67(3), 458-464.

Tracy, B. (2008). The Value of Mentors: Be Open to Their Influence. Leadership Excellence, 25(1),4.