Possible Mentor Selection Criteria

Barry Sweeny, © 2003


The following are some of the criteria options for mentor selection that various mentoring programs have used. These are shared here to give you a sense of the RANGE of possibilities. Most programs will use more than one of these criteria BUT it is not desirable to use ALL these possibilities.

Using a set of criteria can work well but caution should be observed to avoid conflicts between criteria, or use of criteria which just cannot work or be used at certain times of the year when people may not be available.

Also, do not confuse the selection of mentors with the matching of mentors and proteges. Criteria for matching are not in this paper, but are to be found elsewhere on this web site.


1. “Your Career Level must be at least level X…” – If your organization already uses a structure such as careel levels, responsibility grades or labels, a salary schedule with experience and performance levels, or job titles which define job levels, these are likely to contain some inherent criteria for which there is general acceptance and which can be used to simplify the mentor selection process. Examples would be:

  • RELATIVE USE – “To be a mentor, you must be at least one job grade above the person who would be your protege.”
  • ABSOLUTE USE – “To become a mentor, you must be at least at the Middle Manager Level (or department head level, etc.).”

2. “Your most recent performance appraisal or evaluation must be at least rated at ‘Excellent’.” This is a tricky area. If the evaluation process is viewed as equitable and fair, then including some minimum level to be achieved on a recent evaluation will make sense to people. If the system is not seem as fair or accurate, linking mentor selection to such a system can create problems.


3. The Mentoring Program Committee has criteria and a selection process , such as seeking evidence of:

  • Past collaborative successes
  • Leadership of adults, prior experience
  • Peer support for a mentor’s application
  • People-to-people interaction skills
  • The quality of the employee’s work, usually based on observation of mentor candidates at work
  • Demonstrated willingness to learn and grow toward becoming an effective mentor
  • Answers on a mentor application about some of the above

4. Supervisor’s recommendation. This can be tricky. Discuss this with a group of supervisors before using this approach. Then, be very clear in defining what a supervisor’s recommendation or signature on a mentoring application actually means. Is it:

  • “I recommend this person as an excellent mentor.”, or…
  • “I will support this person with released time.” or…
  • “I don’t object to this, it’s OK”… or is it simply…
  • “I understand this person has applied to be a mentor.” (neither approval or not)

Also, be careful that a supervisor’s “OK” does not mean, “I want this person to be a mentor because I want the mentor to learn a lot more themselves.” (Yes, it happens, and it is often a disaster when it does.)


5. Peer recommendations. In some work cultures, this is a tricky area too. Peer recommendation should be made based on a judgment that the candidate has desired characteristics which the mentor program has defined. If this is done well, you will be asking the very people who know who the best employees are and, non-participants will eventually look at who the mentors are and say “She is a good manager/worker/employee and should be a mentor.”


6. Years of recent experience in the job. Often a minimum of five years experience in the specific job and at that location are required of mentors. I would not recommend using a greater number of required years of experience as this can exclude some of your most enthusiastic and currently trained people.


7. Self nomination. This is actually one of the best methods if carefully structured as follows:

  • Define a major mentor responsibility to be that of modeling continual learning and growth, which requires tolerance for ambiguity and a willingness to seek and accept feed back from others about the best performance and practices.
  • Hold a 2 hour Mentor Program Informational Meeting at several points during the year for any interested mentoring candidates. Require all mentor candidates to attend one of these. Explain how the program will work, how the role of the mentor is defined, and what mentors are expected to do. Acknowledge that not everyone will choose to serve in this role for a variety of reasons and that matches with appropriate proteges may sometimes be difficult to attain.
  • State “If you will be uncomfortable when a more junior employee asks you to explain your decisions, or to justify why you do a specific practice, then you should probably not become a mentor because that’s what it is like.”
  • If a person applies, and you wonder about their ability to be an effective mentor, it still might make sense to allow them to attend the mentor training. They may learn a lot, and may, given more information about mentoring, decide not to become a mentor after all. Even if the questionable person goes through with the training and still seeks a mentoring assignment, it is possible to deal with it by saying “the ideal match for a person with your unique strengths has not been found.”

NOTE:   ELABORATE PLANS FOR SELECTION OF MENTORS ARE OFTEN SOON DISCARDED DUE TO THE TIME-INTENSIVE TASK OF CHECKING CRITERIA, MAKING DIFFICULT JUDGMENTS, AND OBSERVING PERFORMANCE, PARTICULARLY IN THE SUMMER WHEN STAFF MAY NOT AVAILABLE FOR SOME OF THESE ACTIVITIES, DUE TO TRAVEL AND VACATIONS.

Be sure that the selection criteria and process you use is feasible and practical.