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The Mentoring Match: Finding the perfect pairing

by Liz Selzer, Ph.D.

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.”
—Benjamin Disraeli

Mentoring is increasingly being recognized by organizations as an effective tool and strategy for helping to develop employees’ knowledge and skills, and empowering them to reach their highest potential. Dr. Linda Phillips-Jones of The Mentoring Group defines mentoring as the process by which “experienced people who go out of their way to (1) help you clarify your vision and personal goals and (2) build skills to reach them.” It is a relationship of influence, of moving forward in ways that simple book learning, training manuals and static leadership concepts cannot achieve. A critical first step in maximizing this powerful tool is pairing people in mentoring relationships that work.

The pair’s purpose
Mentoring is an effective and desirable strategy for helping new employees acclimate, encouraging personal growth and disseminating an organization’s best practices. Mentoring can also help encourage workers and provide clear role models for ideal behaviors such as sharing knowledge and implementing an organization’s vision. The pairing of two individuals is very important to any mentoring program. When people are paired correctly, mentoring can be a great experience. If pairings are not given much thought, mentoring can become a waste of time—or worse, a negative experience. The appropriate pairing of mentors and mentees is the first step to an empowering relationship.

Pairing parameters
A valuable mentoring match has a number of components that give it strength and the power to transform an organization. Setting expectations for the relationship up front is a critical first step. Here’s what to look for in a rewarding match:

  • Attraction. Both mentee and mentor have to see a benefit in the relationship.
  • Clear and realistic expectations of what a mentoring relationship is and is not.
  • Regular evaluations, proactive communication and check points for progress.
  • Comfort with the opportunity to provide and receive regular input, through meetings set up ahead of time.
  • Mutual encouragement, not a top-down attitude.
  • The hope of listening with respect.
  • An expectation of confidentiality.
  • Discussion of clear expectations and up-front definitions of what success will look like.
  • An expectation of improved skills and increased knowledge.

Pairing process
Practical placement ideas include the following:

  • When identifying candidates for a mentor/mentee relationship, Phillips-Jones suggests questions such as: Who is influential in my life? Who thinks I have potential? Who has recently “made it” and who might be inspired to help me? What could my current boss provide? What goals do I have that fit with those of others?
  • Natural affinities. Who do potential mentees and mentors naturally find inspirational, compatible? Are informal mentoring relationships already established?
  • Natural career promotion paths. Who is already in the natural flow of where your organization is going?

How do you go about setting up mentoring matches? Practical ways for finding matches for a mentoring program might include the following:

  • “Speed dating” for mentors and mentees. Gather those who would like to participate, or who you would like to see participate in a mentoring program. Have them sit in mentor/mentee pairs for a prescribed amount of time, asking questions much as in a speed-dating scenario. The organization might want to give some basic questions to begin with that reflect the vision of the mentoring program. Have the mentors and mentees request their top three matches and pair up as best you can, based on their requests and the organization’s goals.
  • Questionnaires on likes, dislikes, personality types, and personal and business goals. Pair up based on similarities, the goals of the mentoring program and the vision of your organization.
  • Requests. Help facilitate these pairings by giving people the opportunity to request mentors and mentees. This is best if you are not able to facilitate a formal mentoring program.

Whatever your goals for mentoring, a clearly thought out process for pairing will be a significant first step in beginning a program for matching mentees and mentors.


Liz Selzer, Ph.D., is a consultant/trainer for The Mentoring Group and the executive editor for FullFill magazine. She lives with her husband and three children in Denver, Colorado.