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Durham University

Organisation Development


Thinking about mentoring?

There are three aspects to the mentoring relationship:

  • A high degree of mutual trust - confidentiality is crucial
  • The mentor helps another person become what they aspire to be
  • The mentor helps another person realise his/her potential.

Most people who have never had a formal mentor before often find that they have already had some form of mentoring from someone who took a personal interest in their welfare and professional development - someone who was prepared to share their experience and knowledge to enable them to develop

What are the skills that a mentor needs to put into action?

  • Does not blame - stays neutral
  • Will give honest answers
  • Not intimidating - easy to approach at any time
  • Knows what they are talking about - good at own job
  • Actively questions
  • Enabling, caring, open and facilitative
  • Gives constructive and positive feedback
  • Provides subtle guidance, but ensures mentees make any decisions
  • Interested in the other  person, showing genuine concern
  • Willing to debate, challenge and discuss

Mentors have to possess a real interest in others and specifically in their development and learning.  This is crucial, as it is this that drives their ability to put the issues and concerns of their mentees ahead of the other things that the rest of us find more important.  The mentor's role is essentially to accelerate the rate at which a person learns.

Mentoring is not to be taken on lightly, as it is potentially a powerful intervention in the development of others, and can, but does not always, involve having to deal with a lot of personal issues that may have had no other means of outlet or resolution. Informally, the potential mentor can review their suitability to be a mentor by following the link for a self-assessment tool.

Mentoring is not an exact science as both mentors and mentees have different ways of working and varying expectations of the role.  It is therefore useful to work within a framework to get the most out of the mentoring relationship.

Please use the attached self-assessment tool to determine your suitability to be a mentor.


What can I expect as a mentor?

You will have been asked if you are willing to be a mentor and your name will have been sent to the new member of staff with their letter of appointment. Once their acceptance has been received, you should make contact as soon as possible and preferably before they take up appointment, and arrange your first meeting.

The best working relationships are those where the mentor:

  • Listens actively and attentively
  • Asks open and appropriate questions
  • Reflects back feelings and opinions he/she observes
  • Makes suggestions without sounding prescriptive
  • Summarises the main points of discussions
  • Gives constructive , positive and precise feedback

At your first meeting, you should clarify the level and nature of the advice and support that is wanted and that you feel able to provide there by establishing boundaries.  The document below contains a number of suggestions for a first meeting agenda.


You will be expected to provide support and guidance throughout the probationary period, for example:

  • initial departmental induction
  • observation and hands-on experience of work tasks
  • instruction in work processes
  • examples of, and guidance on, acceptable standards of work
  • information, advice and guidance on departmental, Faculty, University or College procedures
  • reference onward to other sources of information and help
  • guidance on departmental culture - 'the way we do things here'
  • a sounding board for the member of staff's reflection on experience
  • introductions to the social life of the University community
  • encouragement to take up learning opportunities within and outside the University

It is a good idea to keep a record of your meetings, noting what has been discussed and agreed, and the objectives for your next meeting.

What are the skills that a mentor needs to put into practice?

As a mentor you should be prepared to:

  • initiate regular meetings with the member of staff and be available on request
  • assist with any problems relating to the performance of duties which he/she chooses to raise
  • appreciate his/her differing experience and needs
  • accept that he/she will wish to seek advice and support from a variety of colleagues
  • respect the importance of confidentiality in the mentoring relationship and establish trust.  Agree that you will not disclose to anyone else what you discuss with the person you are mentoring unless with his/her agreement. 
  • periodically evaluate and review the relationship.
  • ensure that you are aware of the professional support available within the University to help colleagues with issues beyond your remit as a mentor - please see Dealing with Difficult issues at the end of this site for further guidance.