(Want to skip ahead and get started? Make sure you're logged in using your ALA member account information, go to your member profile, and click on the MentorConnect tab!)
Mentoring has been proven to be an important relationship in helping individuals develop their careers and professional identities. But what exactly is mentoring and how does it work?
A mentor is someone who has experience-based wisdom and who is willing to spend time on issues related to the development of your career. This person’s sole focus is you as the mentee. They do not judge you but work in your best interests and as a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage. Mentors give their time and experience with no expectation of a return of any kind.
Mentoring relationships are marked by:
Consistent and frequent contact – meeting/talking once a year is not the same as mentoring.
- Challenges to the mentee’s mental models (and, often, the mentor’s as well).
- A focus on the long-term development of your career.
But what do mentors do exactly?
Mentors primarily listen. They listen to your aspirations and goals. A mentor might provide stimulating readings or developmental exercises. A mentor might help you think through difficult decisions (but not provide answers). Mentees might turn to their mentors for advice on new positions or on salary negotiations. Mostly, however, mentors work with their mentees on personal and professional development.
The best mentors help their mentees discover their own paths and best decisions. Because of this, direct advice should be rare and turned to least often. Guiding and helping should be the dominant activity and listening the most important mentoring skill.
FAQ on Mentoring
Q: Can my boss be my mentor?
A: Many people develop strong relationships with their bosses such that the boss/supervisor can serve as a mentor. However, it’s still useful to seek an additional mentor who is not so close to your day-to-day work. In this way, you can be assured of someone focused on your long-term development.
Q: I hear the terms coaching and mentoring used interchangeably. Are they the same thing?
A: Coaching focuses on job performance and immediate improvement or skill development. Mentoring focuses on long-term development and success so is much broader in scope. Some experts consider mentoring a coaching activity. The most useful distinction is that mentoring is long-term and career-oriented, and coaching is short-term and task or job-related.
Q: Who can be a mentor?
A: Anyone can serve as a mentor to someone else as long as they have experience-based wisdom, listen well, and can play a helping role.
Q: How do I know if I need a mentor?
A: Everyone can benefit from mentoring, no matter what the stage of their career.
Q: How do I find a mentor?
A: Sometimes mentoring relationships develop spontaneously but don’t wait for that to happen! Use MentorConnect to locate someone with a background similar to your interests. Find someone you respect and from whom you think you could learn something and whom you trust, and just ask them. Most people are flattered and surprised to be asked to serve as a mentor.
Some ALA units offer additional, formal mentoring programs. You can find further information about these programs at the following links.
- Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) and ACRL section mentoring programs
- Emerging Leaders
- Library Leadership & Management Association (LLAMA) Mentoring Program
- New Members Round Table (NMRT) Mentoring Program
- Spectrum Scholars
Q: What’s the advantage of using MentorConnect?
A: MentorConnect makes it easy to find a mentor. It augments the formal programs that are sponsored by various ALA offices and divisions. You can be involved in one of these formal programs and have a MentorConnect mentor at the same time. You might prefer a slightly less formal approach to mentoring, and MentorConnect offers that.
Even if you’re engaged in a formal mentoring program, you and your mentor can use MC for the built-in feedback.
Q: How much time does this take?
A: For both the mentor and mentee, this is a serious commitment. Consistent levels of contact, whether via telephone, chat, or in-person visits, are critical to the success of the relationship. Mentors and mentees should determine the schedule of conversation early on in their relationships.
Q: How long should the mentoring relationship last?
A: There is no set length for mentoring relationships. Many mentoring relationships last a lifetime; however there are many very effective mentoring relationships that are shorter in duration. As a mentee you should talk about your expectations with your mentor. Creating open communication lines right at the outset is critical.
Q: What is the role of feedback in mentoring?
A: Both the mentee and the mentor can benefit from feedback from each other. Feedback is information that tells you how effectively you are performing or what you might do to improve what you are doing. Thus, feedback can be positive or it can help address a weakness. Either way, feedback should be viewed as a gift.
MentorConnect (“MC”) provides you with a method for sending each other feedback and archiving it so that it’s always easy for you to refer back to it. Within MC, view a mentorship to see all feedback to and from that particular mentor in a completely confidential space. No one except the two of you can see your mentorship or the feedback attached to it, and ALA will never show it to anyone else unless legally obligated to do so. Your feedback is safe with us.
Q: What should I do if things do not seem to be going well?
A: Very occasionally, the fit between mentor and mentee does not work. Or something interferes with the efficacy of the relationship. The best way to handle these situations is to be open and frank. If there is something that isn’t working, it’s very important to have a conversation about it as soon as possible. Be careful not to give up too soon – sometimes a rough spot doesn’t mean the end of the relationship and, in fact, having an open conversation can strengthen it.