Mentor matching: how to make career-changing pairings

The mentor-mentee match is critical to a mentorship program's success. There is a lot of behind the scenes work that goes into setting up a program and much of that work is getting that match right. Here's how to match mentors and mentees the right way.

Matthew Reeves

Published on 

January 11, 2022

Updated on 

Employees often see mentoring as a vital part of their career journey. 

Statistics have found that 55 percent of people believe mentoring is key to helping them succeed. And another study found that 67 percent of businesses found workplace mentoring programs improved productivity.

Getting the best results from your mentoring program starts at the beginning, with the mentor match. 

Which employees should be matched with a mentor?

Mentorship holds benefits for all your employees, whether they are involved as mentees or mentors. 

All employees should have access to mentors, but many formal mentoring programs are often designed with specific employees in mind. Employees that benefit most from having mentors include:

  • New hires - mentoring new employees can be an essential part of onboarding. It helps them learn the ropes and create a social connection with other employees. 
  • Junior employees - assisting junior employees in learning leadership skills, goal setting and attainment, and expanding their network is good for them and your organization. 
  • Employees who are from underrepresented backgrounds - creating a diverse and inclusive workplace can be challenging. By offering mentorship to employees from diverse backgrounds, your organization will be better able to help those workers succeed.  
  • Remote employees who don’t have as many career advancement opportunities - employees who work from home are often overlooked for promotions. Out of sight, out of mind as the saying goes. By mentoring your remote employees, they can develop skills, cultivate connections, and stay in the loop about possible advancement opportunities. 

How do you select mentors?

The characteristic of great mentors can set the tone for the mentoring experience. Mentors need to have certain qualifications or traits for successful mentoring relationships.

Recently, Jodi Petersen and Mary Schlegel from MentorStrat, a mentoring consulting and training firm, spoke with our team to understand what first-time program managers need to know to run a successful mentoring program.

The whole conversation is worth listening to if you're planning a mentoring program. But Mary shared some insightful advice for selecting mentors, emphasizing that it depends on the goals of the program:

Let's unpack several things you should look for when you select mentors for your workplace mentoring program:

Committed to mentoring: Employees who have experienced the advantages of mentoring themselves will be more committed to the process. A mentor should value and believe in mentoring. 

Desire to help others succeed: To be successful as a mentor, an individual needs to have a genuine interest in seeing others advance and grow. Look for someone who has demonstrated a passion for helping others. They have a coaching-type personality and can inspire others with their approach. 

Strong communicator: Communication is key to working relationships, and you want a mentor who is adept at sharing their thoughts with others in a constructive way. Mentors who are strong communicators will be able to read their mentees and communicate in a way that will be most effective for the learning process. For example, mentors may be called upon to critique a report or presentation of their mentee. This requires a delicate approach, and a mentor with solid communication skills will know how to do this. 

A guide, not a dictator: Mentors should guide their mentees to answers rather than tell them what to do. Mentorship is a learning experience, and mentees will learn more if they can discover the solution themselves. 

Loves learning: Mentors should be individuals who have a love of learning. They are well-read and enjoy staying up-to-date on topics that interest and impact them. People who love learning will encourage and inspire others on their journey. 

If leaders or seasoned employees in your organization have these qualities, they should be encouraged to be mentors. If you’re struggling to get coveted executives to join, check out our blog on how to get busy executives to join your mentoring program.

How to match mentors and mentees

The mentoring pairing process is one of the keys to success for any mentoring program. If you’re able to match two individuals who are a good fit, the rest should be easy. Here are the ways that most workplace mentoring programs make their matches. 

Manually matching mentors

If your mentoring program is relatively small, you can get by with manually matching mentors. This is usually done on a word document or spreadsheet. 

You’ll record the names and some details about the participants. Your mentoring program can also use a survey for registration. This gives you an idea about what goals each participant has for their mentorship. Once you have these details down, you’ll be able to use them to make a mentoring match. 

One of the drawbacks to manually matching mentors is the time it takes. It’s also a process that does not allow you to scale your mentoring program. In other words, it can limit you. 

Using mentor matching software

When you have a large number of participants or are looking to expand your mentoring program, it can be overwhelming to try and match so many employees. It will seem like there is no method to the madness or end to the work. 

Catherine Marchand from the People and Culture Team at discussed with us on our Mentorship Round-Table her transition from a mentoring program run through Excel to one with Together’s software: 

“As we grew in size and expanded across different functional units in our program, nothing was really that simple anymore. So having the tools to manage that complexity is very, very valuable. With Together, we’re able to funnel everyone through a consistent, structured, and supportive [pairing] process.”

The complexity of running internal mentoring programs with dozens or hundreds of employees reveals why mentor matching software becomes essential. It makes pairing quick, informed, and scalable.

Mentoring software like Together allows you to leverage a pairing algorithm that matches mentors with mentees based on a questionnaire they fill out during the registration process.

Decide on the type of matching

Once you decide how you will manage mentor-mentee matches (whether manually or with a tool), you’ll need to decide the type of match. There are three ways to structure matching:

  1. Self-matching
  2. Administrator matching
  3. Preliminary matching

Let’s look at each in more detail.

Self-matching (mentees choose)

Self-matching is when individuals choose their mentor. Mentees are usually given a pool of mentors to choose from. Self-matching is a great way to empower mentees and let them decide who would be the best match for them. One downside is that mentees may all run for a select few mentors. Everyone wants to be mentored by the CEO, for example. For this reason, many HR teams managing the program may opt for admin matching.

Administrator matching

Administrator matching is when program managers choose the mentor-mentee match. They can use employment data on participants to identify where there is potential for a successful pairing. They may base the match on similar skills, backgrounds, goals, or more. Although this puts more control in the admin's hands, one downside is that it makes the pairing process more labour intensive. It takes more time to find everyone a match. Sometimes program managers choose to take a middle road between administration and self-matching, preliminary matching.

Mentor approval (most popular)

Mentor approval pairing is the most popular model we see on Together's mentorship platform. Administrators have the ability to influence matches, but mentees have the freedom to request a pairing with a mentor. The mentor can then approve or reject the pairing. With Together's pairing algorithm, mentees usually short list their top five mentors and then if their first choice denies the pairing request it automatically requests with the second mentor. This goes on until a match is made.

How to fix a poor mentor match

Not all matches work out, and if one doesn’t, that’s alright. If you find that a match is not working out, it’s important to address the situation quickly. You don’t want your participants to let one experience ruin their opportunity for growth and learning. 

Ask for feedback from both the mentor and mentee so you can understand their perspective. What they share can be helpful for improving how you manage the pairing process in the future. 

It’s also important to quickly find a new match for both the mentor and mentee based on what they share with you. Work to help them have a positive mentorship experience. 

Mentor-mentee matching algorithm

Getting a good mentor-mentee match can seem difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re not interested in spending hours manually matching mentors and mentees, consider trying out Together’s mentoring software. 

The Together algorithm makes it easy to match mentors with employees. Likewise, it provides a host of tools to manage and report on your program. If you aim to run a best-in-class mentoring program, you need Together’s mentorship software.

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