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Becoming a Mentor


Why become a mentor?

Serving as a mentor can be a powerful experience. You have the unique opportunity to have a direct impact on someone’s life in a very positive way, which is both humbling and rewarding. You can translate your own career path, important decisions you have made and lessons you have learned into meaningful advice that will support your mentee in their growth and development. In a broad sense, being a mentor is paying it forward for future generations.

Who can serve as a mentor at the UW?

Almost any person affiliated with the University can become a mentor. Faculty, staff, alumni, students, volunteers and community members are all mentors to their peers and/or students.

How do I become a mentor?

There are many opportunities to serve as a mentor at the UW! Check out our Mentoring Opportunities page to explore programs that may be the right fit for you.

If you do not have the opportunity to join an established program at the UW, there are other ways you can seek this volunteer opportunity.

How do I become a great mentor?

First, thank you in advance for committing to mentorship. “The Mentor’s Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships (2nd Ed.),” written by Lois J. Zachary, is as an effective resource to frame serving as a mentor in the UW community. Zachary describes four predictable phases for mentoring: preparing, negotiating, enabling growth and coming to closure.

In the preparing phase, research your mentee (try LinkedIn), list your personal strengths and areas for improvement and carefully consider your own bandwidth. Consider the following questions:

  • What are your goals as a mentor? Do you have set goals if you are participating in an established program?
  • How will you be prepared to support a mentee?
  • Do you know your mentee’s goals?
  • How can you and your mentee build a good rapport? Have a list of questions or topics to get started.
  • Since setting the tone matters, where should your first meeting take place?

The negotiating phase centers around creating learning goals, developing a plan to reach these goals, and establishing the relationship. Consider the following tools and tactics, especially during the first meeting:

  • Discussing goals (make a to-do list together if not provided by an established program)
  • Clear understanding of roles and expectations (e.g., communication, frequency of meetings – refer to the Mentoring Ground Rules chart)
  • Creating a safe space, while also setting an expectation for challenge and support
  • Sharing previous mentoring experiences
  • Asking your mentee to articulate their career vision and/or plan at the UW
  • Discussing each other’s personal/learning style

In particular, the “Common Mentoring Ground Rules” (Zachary, p. 139) chart is a great place to start in terms of framing and setting expectations (see below).

Issues Ground Rules
  • Meetings will begin & end on time
  • We will manage our time well and use agendas to keep on task
  • We will put interruptions aside
  • Feedback
  • Regular feedback will be an expectation
  • Role Expectations
  • Active participation from each of us
  • Each will keep a mentoring journal to reflect on our experiences
  • We will honor each other’s time, expertise and experience
  • Communication
  • Our communication is open, candid and direct
  • We will respect our differences and learn from them
  • Stumbling Blocks
  • If we come upon an obstacle, we will address it immediately
  • Closure
  • In the event our relationship doesn’t work out, we will have a closure conversation and use it as a learning opportunity
  • We will conclude our mentoring relationship at an agreed upon time and use the time to reflect on our growth and learning
  • Enabling growth is considered the “work phase” of the relationship when most of the meetings occur. The mentor’s role is to “facilitate learning by establishing and maintaining an open and affirming learning climate and providing thoughtful, timely, candid and constructive feedback” (g. 89). Consider the following elements:

    • Revisiting your goals and evaluate your progress
    • Offering feedback – are you comfortable with constructive feedback? The SBI Feedback Tool might help if this is a skill you would like to build.

    The coming to closure phase is important as it is an opportunity for both you and the mentee to recognize and celebrate what you have learned and how you have grown/developed. Consider these questions:

    • Would you consider your time together a success? Why or why not? How will you learn from this and apply it to future mentorship relationships?
    • Will you stay in touch? How often? Be honest about your own commitment ability.
    • Are there opportunities for you to offer feedback if you are part of an established program?

    What If?   Managing Challenges and Potential Obstacles in Mentoring

    You might be thinking this all sounds reasonable and clear, but what if you and your mentee don’t click? What if you aren’t able to follow through on your commitment? What if you find that you’re in over your head?

    As mentorship is about relationship-building, it’s very common to encounter speed bumps along the journey. In most cases, time will help to alleviate awkward initial interactions and reacting to the unexpected.

    In some cases, though, the match between you and your mentee might not be strong enough for the mentorship to continue. As you know, if you find yourself in this situation, it’s not about you or your mentee; it’s simply not a good match. If you are part of an established program, contacting them about next steps would be best. If it’s up to you and your mentee whether or not you continue, have an honest conversation with them about your experience.

    Another important element to consider is the scope of your help; meaning, you are not expected to serve as a therapist or have expertise in areas other than those you have identified in terms of how you plan to support your mentee. Know when to refer and ask others for help when needed.