9 Steps to Become a Great Mentor

The Mentoring Toolbox is a blog series about the nuts and bolts of mentoring. Here you’ll find useful information for current and prospective mentors—everything from what it's like to volunteer for iMentor to how to help your mentee start on a college or career path.

Whether you are thinking about becoming a mentor for the first time or you are a seasoned mentor, everyone can benefit from a reminder about the actions that make for successful mentoring. Use this step-by-step guide as a resource to always stay on track as an effective mentor.

1. Listen and ask questions.

The best way to get started in helping a mentee is to learn about who they are, what they fear and what they hope for. Mentees won’t always share about themselves without prompting, so take the first step: express an interest and ask about your mentee. When in conversation, listen to what your mentee is saying (and not saying) and ask questions to understand as much as possible.

Success in listening and asking questions looks like actively and thoughtfully steering conversations to new and productive territory.

2. Demonstrate candor by going first.

Let’s be honest: It can be uncomfortable to be candid sometimes. This is even more true for youth.

However, candor leads to trust, and trust is a key ingredient in a successful mentorship. Demonstrate the appropriate amount of candor with your mentees by sharing about yourself without waiting to be prompted by your mentee. When you are candid with your mentee, it prompts your mentee to be candid with you too, and this is part of building a relationship of trust.

Success in candor looks like your truest self, without euphemism or avoidance.

3. Break down big goals into small steps.

Big goals can be daunting. Mentees don’t always know how to work backward from large goals to construct a plan of small, achievable steps. You can help your mentee make progress by identifying actionable steps. Don’t forget to find opportunities to celebrate each step toward a goal, no matter how small. Your encouragement helps mentees have faith that they can achieve their aims —whether that’s earning a certain grade or getting a part-time job.

Success in breaking big goals into steps looks like checking just one task off a list consistently and over a long period of time.

4. Teach and model resilience.

Whether or not a mentee has already learned to be resilient in the face of adversity, a great mentor teaches and models resiliency so that the mentee is continuously inspired to keep on keepin’ on.

When mentees fail, help them to bounce back. When you see them bounce back, remind them of how far they’ve come. Success in resilience looks like continuously approaching a challenge, perhaps in different ways, to try to work through it.

5. Hold mentee to high expectations.

A great mentor has great expectations. Having high expectations for your mentee is an easy way to assure them that they are able to succeed.

Success in setting high expectations looks like constantly challenging your mentee in ways in which they may not think they can triumph. This may be encouraging your mentee to learn a new skill, join a new club, meet new people, or leaving their comfort zone in other ways.

6. Hold yourself to high expectations.

Mentoring is a difficult job. A great mentor adopts a “Does whatever it takes” perspective. Great mentors are up to the job because they understand how much the mentees can benefit from great mentors.

Success in holding oneself to high expectations looks like pushing the comfort zones in your own life. Examine how, who, and what you've learned. Model life-long learning so that your mentee can understand that learning doesn't just happen in school.

7. Connect mentees to resources and opportunities.

Be a connector. Great mentors go out of their way to connect mentees to people, services, experiences, and other opportunities that will help the mentee towards success. Think of your mentee’s interests as well as areas in which they would like to have more support. How can you play a role in their growth and development?

Success in connecting your mentee to opportunities is guiding them to people, places, and things that will help them with their passions and academic endeavors.

8. Remembers what it’s like to be a teenager.

It’s easy to forget how it feels to be a teenager. While a mentor may have had a very different adolescence than the mentee, a great mentor remembers the experiences that were universal and uses those memories to put things in perspective. Help prepare your mentee for adulthood by sharing about universal experiences such as the exploration of identity, the transition to adulthood, the realization that adults are imperfect, and more.

Success in remembering oneself as a teenager means finding overlapping occurrences and similarities among your and your mentee’s experiences, and using those commonalities to help your mentee better understand this period of transition and gain a sense of comfort about the future.

9. Make use of iMentor program staff expertise.

We believe that mentoring isn’t a solo act. Great mentors contact their Program Manager whenever they are unsure of what to do. Since 1999, iMentor has developed best practices and strategies that help mentors have the greatest impact on mentees.

Success in using staff expertise means advocating for knowledge to build you capacity as a mentor.

Learn about becoming a mentor. Read about Haemi Lim, a mentor from Barclays with iMentor NYC. Haemi shares how she supports her mentee, Yesly, in planning for life after high school, and why mentoring has been such a meaningful experience.