Designing a Mentor Job Description

By Barry Sweeny, 2002


INDEX:


INTRODUCTON
I get many requests for help in defining a mentor job description, as well as designing a mentor application, and a mentoring contract or agreement.

These three topics seem so straight forward, but actually, they require us to become involved in a more complex area than may be apparent at first. This is the first of threearticles which address each of these three related topics and how to use these as effective strategies to improve the quality and impact of mentoring.

There are three aspects to working on these three related topics:
1. The conceptual framework which guides your creation and use of mentor statements

2. Statements mentors might need to make BEFORE becoming a mentor, like

  • a mentor application

3. Statements mentors might make as they BECOME a mentor which clarify the commitment they are making. Examples of these statements might be:

  • A mentor’s oath
  • A mentoring contract
  • Acceptance of a job description

Before we can look at each of these mentor statements, we need to discuss (#1) the conceptual relationships between effective mentor characteristics, roles, and tasks. Then we can use that framework to consider how best to design and use applications and any other statements we might ask mentors to make.


THE CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK

Before we can design a mentoring job description, the first question we must answer is, “What are the relationships among the characteristics, roles, and tasks of effective mentors?”  Here is a diagram that can help clarify these terms.

Characteristics & Mentor Roles

Mentor Tasks
• The most global & intangible
• More specific & concrete
• The hardest to use objectively
• Easiest to use and discuss objectively

In actual practice, I find that the lists of “characteristics” of effective mentors which many programs develop are actually pretty useless. I say that at least for applications like answering mentors’ questions, designing mentor trainings,  holding mentors accountable for effectiveness, supporting them, or program evaluation.

I feel these characteristics are useless because they intermix the “roles” and the “tasks” of effective mentors. Unfortunately, people use these two terms interchangeably when they actually mean different things.


ROLES describe what a mentor should BE or BE LIKE, and so are more subjective and abstract. This is what makes it so tricky and maybe useless when we use them for something like mentor selection, the frequent purpose of a mentor job description and application system.

If the roles of effective mentors are used to develop a mentoring application that will help you select effective mentors, then the selection process will become pretty subjective too. For example, one mentor role is that the mentor serves as a “friend”.

  • What mentor, on filling in an application, will state that they are not friendly?
  • How can I say whether you are or are not someone else’s friend? Yet truly, some mentors do not ACT like friends of their protege.

This is why I feel roles are not too helpful. This is also why, when roles are mixed up with tasks in a list of “Characteristics” it’s not so helpful.  I do suggest that all mentoring and induction programs need to define “The Roles of Ideal Mentors”. However, in order to make roles even more useful, such as for guiding decisions or mentoring behaviors, we also need to make those roles more concrete and observable by defining their equivalent TASKS. Doing so will make using them easier because they will be more specific and objective.

(See a list of Proposed Roles of Effective Mentors)


TASKS are those things which effective mentors must DO.   They are observable behaviors and so, it is much easier to be objective about whether they are present or not in any mentor.

For example, the tasks that relate to the role of a friendly mentor might be stated as follows:
* Effective mentors demonstrate friendship to their proteges by:

A. ADVOCATING for their protegeB. LISTENING to the protegeís ideas, dreams, needs, & concerns

C. PROTECTING CONFIDENCE, by establishing & maintaining the mutual respect and trust needed for the risk-taking necessary for learning, maturing, & professional growth

D. REACHING OUT, as in helping a protege feel less a guest & more a peer & team member

E. CELEBRATING by recognizing accomplishments, affirming growth, & building professional self confidence.

This is why in my own mentor training materials I present both the ideal roles and ideal tasks done by effective mentors. That way mentors and proteges can see the more abstract attitudes and dispositions behind the concrete ways which mentors behave.

(See a list of Proposed Tasks of Effective Mentors)


USING MENTORING TASKS AS A GUIDE FOR DECISIONS

Before we can select someone’s mentoring application to use or modify, or before we design our own, we must have clarified the characteristics or mentoring roles that we want our mentors to assume (to BE) and then have translated those roles into more tangible mentoring tasks (to DO).   Once we have defined what we want to see mentors DO, then we can consider the application, contract, or other statement’s language to make them descriptive of those tangible behaviors.

Now we can turn our attention to the selection or development of effective mentor statements, such as applications. If you do not already have your own “Characteristics of Effective Mentors” from which to draw out roles and tasks, or other such page on which to build, feel free to review documents we share on this web site and perhaps use or modify these for your use. (see links above.)

If you do already have such a document, you may need to revise it to make it a more effective description of the mentor’s work before it can also serve as a guide for mentor selection and matching by the program and the behaviors of the mentors.


WHAT TO INCLUDE IN A MENTOR JOB DESCRIPTION

A mentor application should at least contain a list of mentoring tasks, or it should be accompanied by the mentor tasks list. However, ideally a mentoring job description should contain BOTH a list of the ideal mentoring ROLES and the TASKS that effective mentors do.

Be sure that these contain language that defines these roles and tasks as IDEALS toward which mentors should work. Also state that the best mentors are those who adapt what they do to fit the unique needs of their specific protege.

That means:

  • Mentors may NOT need to be some roles or do some tasks with all proteges, because the strengths of a specific protege may not require all the things which are on the ideal lists.
  • Mentors WILL need to be and do all the things on the ideal list as they serve a range of different proteges across an extended time.

What follows is a job description I found on the Internet. I provide it here to give readers the opportunity to use the ideas I have presented in this paper to evaluate an example job description for its usefulness, consider whether it is focused on general roles (BE) or on specific tasks (DO), or both. As you consider these issues, you will increase your ability to develop an effective mentor job description for yourself.

A SAMPLE MENTOR JOB DESCRIPTION TO CRITIQUE

The Mentoring Program is provided through the selection of veteran master employees for two years of release from their work assignments to be full-time mentors for novice employees. Four and 1/2 days a week, each mentor orients and guides up to ten beginning employees toward more effective practice.Specifically, a mentor coaches novices in self-identified areas for growth, using collected data on the protege’s performance relative to the professional standards. Mentor responsibilities include planning, training, providing consultation and problem solving, demonstrating, collaborative support, positive and non evaluative feedback, and emotional support.

The other 1/2 day each week is spent:

    • working with and supporting fellow mentors
    • working with the mentor program coordinator who is the district “Mentor of Mentors”, and …
    • working on their own professional development goals and growth plan.

Is this a good job description?    Do you think that the author of this article would like this job description?

  • If you were a mentor candidate, would you know what to consider to help you decide if you should apply to be a mentor?
  • If you already were a mentor in this program, would you know what was expected of you?

If you concluded that I believe such a job description is a good one, you are right. It is specific and task-focused enough that a candidate could envision exactly what they must do as a mentor, yet it is not so specific as to be a ìlaundry listî that is overly prescriptive.

While this sample job description is a “good” one, the problem I find is that it does not ALSO help me decide as a mentor candidate if I am the kind of person that an effective mentor must be.

If I am already a mentor, this job description does not ALSO help me self-assess whether I am demonstrating the kinds of attitudes I should to be an effective mentor. In other words, this sample job description is useful in that it is focused on the specific TASKS, but would be even more helpful if it also defined mentoring ROLES.

(See the next article on THE MENTOR APPLICATION)