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Mentoring 101, According to Bonnie Cooper

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

At TerraSense Analytics we believe that learning never stops and is a two-way street, regardless of experience, which is why we offer mentoring programs built in. No matter your role, job title or department, being a good mentor is an underestimated yet very valuable skill to have – not just at work but in life.

We’re so big on mentoring our peers that we've even got our own guide to the mentoring journey, written by Bonnie Cooper, our Head of Talent and Recruitment. We've asked her about how to be the best mentor and all the benefits that come with it, so read on to see how you can make the most of the symbiotic experience that is the mentor/mentee relationship!

But first, what does it mean to be a mentor?

Mentors share their wisdom and experiences with mentees to help develop their goals and skills, so becoming a mentor means investing time and action. It may seem one-sided at first glance, but mentoring also allows mentors to draw benefits by evolving their own thinking, forming new relationships and deepening their leadership skills.

Types of mentoring relationships

Mentoring relationships range from informal to formal. Sometimes, mentors are formally assigned through a work or mentoring program; other times, mentors act informally by providing feedback or reviewing a project, for example. Mentors and mentees may work in the same field or company, or might even just be acquaintances.

  • Informal mentoring usually occurs spontaneously, like when a peer or supervisor with more experience offers their help without being asked for it.

  • Formal mentoring is intentional: either the mentee asks for mentoring or the mentor offers it. Together, both mentor and mentee set goals, schedules and other agreements for the relationship.

  • Facilitated mentoring often involves a third party and revolves around a specific goal, like helping mentees develop their careers, using a structured and defined framework.

No matter the type of mentoring relationship, always think of yourself as a learning facilitator rather than the person with all the answers. Not all heroes wear capes, and that definitely applies to mentors.

Remember that mentees are responsible for their own growth, so let yours take ownership of their experiences rather than you taking them under your wing.

Getting started

When embarking on a mentoring journey, these basics are fundamental to the relationship you’re about to build with your mentee.

  1. Seek the most personal means to connect. Favour in-person meetings, conversations over coffee or shared meals as opposed to emails, text messages and other impersonal ways of communicating.

  2. Don't promise more time than you can deliver. Agree on the amount of time you each can invest. Then, establish a schedule and how you’d like to work together. Keep your commitments, or reschedule or renegotiate them immediately if needed.

  3. Get to know each other. Discuss preliminary goals and expectations for the mentoring relationship, as well as your backgrounds, experiences, interests, skills, and challenges. Be sensitive to differences (age, generation, gender, race, cultural group, professional background, etc.), but explore and learn from shared experiences as well.

  4. Build trust. Increase trust by keeping conversations and other communications with your mentee confidential, honouring your scheduled meetings and calls, consistently showing interest and support, and being honest. Avoid talking negatively about others, too.

  5. Determine goals. Before you can help your mentee achieve their goals, they need to first be identified. Only then can you start developing your mentee's capacity for learning and achieving those goals. Ask thought-provoking questions and give them time to brainstorm if needed.

Ensuring a positive mentorship journey

You want your mentee’s experience to be as rewarding as possible, so once you've exchanged information and set goals, it's time to start giving input and support. You might be surprised at how it's often the little things that have the biggest impact!

  1. Provide feedback. Feedback—positive or negative—is a gift. Build your mentee’s confidence by providing both supportive feedback and constructive criticism, and help them view setbacks as learning experiences.

  2. Listen actively. Active listening not only establishes rapport but creates a positive, accepting environment of open communication and ascertains your mentee's interests and needs. Using body language (such as making eye contact) also shows that you’re paying attention.

  3. Encourage and inspire. Give encouragement by commenting favourably on accomplishments. Respond to frustrations and challenges with words of support, and inspire your mentee to excel by sharing experiences, mistakes and successes encountered by you or people who’ve inspired you along the way.

  4. Work towards goals and deepen the engagement. Help your mentee work towards achieving their goals through conversations, learning and development activities, and other resources like people, books, articles, and web-based information. Sharing useful examples and processes can also be very helpful.

  5. Challenge them to think outside the box. Favour asking questions over giving advice to help your mentee think more broadly and deeply. If they’re stuck in an immediate crisis, help them see the big picture.

Ending the mentoring journey

When the time comes to bring the formal mentoring relationship to a close, look at how far your mentee has come and how much they’ve grown. Reflect on their initial goals, progress and accomplishments, explore the challenges that may lie ahead, and plan for their continued success.

Reflect on your mentoring practice, too. What are the changes you see in yourself and in the way you approach your work as a result of the mentoring relationship? Now’s a good time to ask for your mentee’s feedback!

The gift that keeps on giving

Don't forget to explore your mentee’s own interest in mentoring. They now know the benefits of the experience first-hand, and will hopefully be ready to pay it forward by giving a promising individual the same rewarding experience.

With mentoring, the mentee’s success is the mentor’s ultimate reward, making giving as rewarding as receiving. It’s a win-win!


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