Selected for Mentoring, But UNassigned?

by Barry Sweeny, 2003

There are many programs which do not select a mentor or train that mentor UNTIL there is a specific protege which would be a good match for that specific mentor. As logical as that may seem, this author does NOT recommend that approach, at least not as the primary method for timing of selecting and matching mentors.

Certainly, there will be times when a match must be made, such as at the last minute before a sequence starts, and this approach is the only one that will work. Like all other “best practices” we cannot always achieve what we believe would be “best”. In all those cases, what we do is “the best we can”.

However, what IS the best practice for the timing of the selection and matching process, and what are the implications for other mentoring program goals and activities?

Best Practices:

  • Review your mentoring program goals and then consider how they are more or less likely to be achieved depending on your program’s approach to selection and matching of mentors. In that way, these activities will be more likely to support attainment of program goals.
  • Recruit any person who WANTS to be a mentor and fits the selection criteria, even if there is currently no protege available for the mentor to be assigned to.
  • The implication of that previous statement is then that the selection process can happen separately from the matching process. That is fine to do.
  • Place the selected mentor into the next available mentor training.
  • Place the trained mentor into the “pool” of mentors who are ready to serve but who are currently unassigned. Such a pool consists of trained mentors whether new or experienced.
  • Require or recommend that all mentors in the “pool, whether assigned or not, should attend the Mentor Peer Support Group meetings. This allows several valuable things to occur:
    • All mentors can continue to keep their training “in the front of their minds” because the peer support activities require them to use their training in the activities.
    • All mentors can continue to improve their mentoring skills by allowing unassigned mentors to hear and learn from those who ARE assigned and sharing what they are learning about being effective mentors.
    • Participation of mentors in the peer support group allows mentor leaders to monitor the growth of mentors and assess their readiness for serving as mentors, and their strengths, which aids in making effective matching decisions.

IF YOU ARE A MENTOR, but your mentoring program does not follow these best practices, consider:

1. Printing and sharing this web page with your mentoring program leader.

2. Share your own feelings about the best practices described above, how they would be helpful to you as a mentor, and how they might benefit the proteges more. Use “I messages” to explain what you feel.

3. Offer the ideas and feelings as advice which includes the stated assumption that:

  • The leaders are doing the best they can, and…
  • They are always looking for ways to make mentoring even more effective.

That way they won’t become defensive and reject the good ideas you are offering.