Designing a Mentor Job Application

By Barry Sweeny, 2002

The ideas in this article are built on the article titledDesigning A Mentoring Job Description“. I suggest you read that first before reading this article.

I suggest that mentors be asked to complete an application.

Applications are an important opportunity for prompting mentor candidates’ reflection on the specific kinds of things that they will need to do and be when they become mentors. Such applications affirm that we don’t just want a bunch of mentors assigned. We want effective mentoring to happen, and we are clear about what effective mentoring looks like. If mentors can’t “see” themselves doing those specific things, then they should not become mentors.

Given this statement, I must also state how I feel about the approach of many mentoring programs that use applications which request information about the mentor candidate relative to the characteristics of effective mentors (the mix of the fuzzy and clear stuff). I find that approach works only in theory and not in a practical sense.

Usually I encourage programs to first develop a job description for mentors which defines the basic roles and tasks mentors must perform, and then I suggest they need to develop the mentoring application to provide the information about how the mentor sees their ability to do what the job description includes.

For example, if the mentoring role requires a person who is a good listener, empathic, interested in the welfare of others, etc. then the application needs to ask something specific like, “Describe a situation in which you were involved with another adult and which demonstrates that you are a good listener, empathic, and that you promote the welfare of others.”

The mentor application may also need certain additional items since the process and criteria for mentor selection often require certain qualifications. In such a case, the application should also ask the mentor candidate to provide certain information and even “certify” certain things, such as:

  • If the mentoring job requires a teacher with a master’s degree, the application should ask for when that degree was earned, in what topic, and at what university.
  • If the mentoring job requires attendance at a prior informational meeting, the application should ask the date of the meeting attended, so that the sign-in sheet (you did save that?) can be checked for that date.
  • If there is a requirement that the manager approve of the mentor’s application (often the case) there should be a place for that, and probably a statement such as…

“The manager’s signature verifies that that he/she knows the candidate as applied to serve as a mentor, approves the candidacy, and will provide the required released time to do the mentoring work.”

I would urge you to be careful, do not to make the application an essay test.

If there are some complex issues to include, there are at least two alternatives to asking a mentor candidate to write an essay about a topic.

  1. Develop, field test, and then refine a limited set of questions that will reveal what you need to know without requiring extensive writing. For example, mentors must be able to effectively promote the growth of another adult. Uncovering
    a candidate’s abilities with other adults could become a very cumbersome process, and yet it is critical to a mentor’s success. What one question would reveal what your program needs to know on this topic, but without requiring an extensive essay? How about…”What previous experience have you had in leading other adults and what did you learn from that experience about how to be an effective leader of adult activities?”
  2. If such questions cannot be developed, or if the topic requires more than a brief written answer, or if interaction may be needed to answer the question or to clarify an answer, it’s probablybetter that there be an interview instead, where true dialog and interaction can occur.