Hidden Mentors: Finding (and Convincing) the Best Candidates to Join Your Mentoring Program

Updated: Aug 30


Two people in a mentoring relationship.
 

Mentoring programs can play a vital role in your company’s growth and success—but only if the right leaders serve as mentors. Let me share with you how to attract, screen, and engage the best candidates from within your organization.

 

If you’re launching a mentoring program within your organization, you know that recruiting great mentors is crucial—and it’s also easier said than done. You may be struggling to attract qualified candidates. When you do identify leaders with potential, they express a variety of doubts: I don’t have enough time. I don’t know how to be a good mentor. What’s in it for me? …And that still leaves the challenge of properly screening interested parties.


The key to navigating all these obstacles while digging out diamonds in the company directory, is having a clear vision and compelling communication.


Before you ever begin the search for potential mentors, you should zero in on the qualifications and qualities you want participants to have. In my recent book, coauthored by Bert Thornton, High-Impact Mentoring: A Practical Guide to Creating Value in Other People’s Lives, I make clear you should also be ready to convince candidates that mentoring will benefit them personally and professionally, and will be a valuable use of their time and energy.


If you’re tempted to skip these preparatory steps and put out a “cattle call” for mentors, think again. While a well-run mentoring program has numerous proven benefits (including attracting and retaining talent, improving employee satisfaction, and driving performance), you’re unlikely to get those results without carefully attracting, screening, and engaging the right mentors.


 

Here, I offer nine tips to help you find great mentors and convince them to participate in your program:


1. Determine what your ideal mentor looks like…

For example, do you want only people who have been in a leadership position within your company for five years or more? A cross-section of people from different departments across your organization? People with specific skill sets? An array of diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, etc.?


2. …and don’t forget the “intangibles.”

The right attitude is important too. A successful mentor will have:

  • A sincere desire to give back to the next generation of emerging leaders

  • A sincere interest in the mentee

  • A track record of demonstrated success

  • Knowledge, interest, or expertise in the mentee’s specific area of interest

  • Peer respect


3. Develop a list and issue invitations.

At this point, I suggest you develop a list of high-quality prospective mentors. Then, have a well-known and respected leader in the organization personally invite each one to participate. This personal touch allows you to tell them about the program; explain why they are a perfect candidate; briefly share how the program works; and communicate the benefits for mentors, mentees, and the organization.


4. Don’t make participation compulsory.

Mandating involvement could make your leaders feel like you are just tacking one more thing onto their already-busy task list. This does not create buy-in or enthusiasm for the program. Instead, the leader is likely to simply go through the motions. Ensure that people know this is an optional program that leadership looks upon favorably.


5. Vet your candidates.

Even if a leader looks good on paper, they might not be mentor material; for instance, they may not have the right temperament.


At the University of West Florida’s Executive Mentor Program, where I am the founding director, vetting involves a written screening and an interview with the program director to ensure that candidates have relevant business experience and the characteristics needed. The beauty of this process is that influential, effective mentors stick around and bring in other effective mentors.


6. Assure them they won’t be on their own.

Potential mentors are usually busy leaders with big responsibilities and full-time jobs. They need to know that when they step into the role of mentor, they will be trained and supported. Be ready to provide details about orientation sessions, instructional resources, and training reinforcement throughout the program (e.g., keynote speakers, networking events, newsletters, etc.).


7. Clearly define a mentor’s responsibilities.

People will be more likely to sign up as mentors if they know what will be expected of them. (In other words, don’t make your mentors carry the mental load of deciding what their “job” looks like.) Here is a sample list of mentor responsibilities:

  • Share professional experience, knowledge, and skills with mentee

  • Help mentee clarify and achieve personal and career goals

  • Evaluate and coach mentee on social characteristics like attitude, energy, appearance, demeanor, and body language

  • Provide introductions and access to business contacts

  • Demonstrate qualities successful business leaders possess


8. Be transparent about the time commitment.

Lack of time is probably the biggest hurdle to overcome as you try to recruit busy executives to become program mentors. Be clear about how many hours every week or month you expect them to spend with their mentees. At UWF, our Executive Mentor Program is structured and designed with the limited schedule of a hardworking executive in mind. While our commitment is for a full year, the monthly time commitment required is typically no more than an hour of preparation and an hour to meet.


9. Explain how they’ll benefit.

On the surface, mentoring seems like a “giving” exchange—but mentors often receive a wealth of benefits. Be ready to answer “What’s in it for me?” when you talk to potential mentors. A few gifts mentors might receive include:

  • A renewed enthusiasm for their professional purpose

  • New skills and insights learned from mentees

  • An expanded network

  • An enhanced reputation within the organization

  • Identifying and developing a possible successor

  • The satisfaction of leaving an impactful legacy


 

Remember, today’s mentees will be tomorrow’s leaders. Make sure they're being taught by the best!

 

Two people talking.

By finding and engaging the most effective mentors hidden amongst your company’s leaders, you’ll strengthen your organization for years to come. Remember, today’s mentees will be tomorrow’s leaders. Make sure they’re being taught and developed by the best!

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