Definition of a Mentor: Best Qualities and How to Choose a Mentor

Quick Navigation:

Mentors can provide valuable advice and tips to help you grow in your career. Choosing the right mentor allows you to get useful guidance while you make important choices. In this article, you can learn more mentors and explore the qualities that you should look for in a mentor to ensure you have a strong connection.

What is a mentor?

A mentor is an experienced professional who provides guidance to an individual in a similar field. Mentors are personal advocates who assist in developing skill sets to improve job outlook and meet professional goals. You can build a strong relationship with a mentor throughout your career by working toward your advancement as an employee and a future leader. Mentors can also provide letters of recommendation, help make important career decisions and expand your professional network.

What does a mentor do?

Here are some common actions that a mentor performs:

Assist with professional development 

Mentors can help develop your potential and help you design a plan to reach your goals and aspirations. Mentors can set ways to measure your success and hold you accountable for results. Mentors provide valuable face-to-face interaction and encourage collaborative problem-solving. For example, you can work on developing your decision-making skills while your mentor offers advice on possible outcomes.

Help set long-term goals

Mentors help strategize long-term goals by understanding what you want to accomplish over a period of time or the course of your career. A mentor can apply their prior experience to guide you in determining your long-term goals.

Offer encouragement and advice

Mentors share their wisdom and knowledge to help you develop decision-making skills and grow your confidence. Mentors offer encouragement so that you can develop skills while they identify areas of improvement. Regular conversations help uncover issues that may need addressing, such as improving in a particular area to receive a promotion or raise.


Mentors are part of brainstorming sessions so that you have someone you can talk to about your ideas and get clarity on the direction you are taking. If you are having trouble making a decision, your mentor can provide an audience that listens to your ideas and guides the resolution.

Encourage creative thinking

A mentor will challenge you to find your own solutions to problems or situations. Mentors offer advice or may relate a story of a similar experience to encourage you to consider your options, resolve conflicts or make decisions.

How to choose a mentor

Here are some steps you can take to choose a mentor:

1. First, identify your career goals

Make a list of goals you want to achieve throughout your career. Consider if you want to lead, have more responsibilities or an increased salary. All of these factors will help you decide who will be best to mentor you. 

2. Second, determine what you need in a mentor

There are many different mentor-mentee relationships, and you should decide which one is right for you. One way to do this is by finding out what you need in a mentor. You could seek someone who will provide more industry-related advice and tips to help you build connections, or you could find someone who can help you develop new skills and abilities. 

3. Third, prepare questions that will help guide your personal journey

Be prepared to ask some questions to find out if the professional you have in mind is a good choice.

Example questions:

  • ‘Are you willing to dedicate [amount of time] each [week/month] to be my mentor?’
  • ‘Would you prefer to schedule one-on-one meetings or more casual communication by phone?’
  • ‘I have two very different career options. Can you help me to decide what is best for me?’
  • ‘How did you get to where you are today?’
  • ‘What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned?’
  • ‘I recently had a conflict with a coworker, how could I have communicated more effectively?’
  • ‘What is your technique for long-term goal planning?’

Best qualities to look for in a good mentor

Here are several qualities to look for in a good mentor:

They have relatable experience and knowledge

Mentors have been where you are and share their experiences in order to explain how they solved the same problem or handled a similar situation. Their experience means they know what questions to ask to help you find your own answers. Effective mentors teach what they know and help you learn from your mistakes.

They are an active listener

A good mentor helps you make informed choices by understanding your goals and aspirations. Mentors practice good listening skills in order to ask the right questions that help you find the answers, rather than providing them for you.

They are open to sharing their feedback

Mentors give insightful feedback to identify strengths and weaknesses or explain complex issues. Constructive feedback aims to develop self-awareness to better guide your decision making and problem-solving. Although mentors may share personal stories or anecdotes, they keep the focus on you and what you are trying to accomplish.

They challenge you

Mentors may guide you while you’re working on specific projects or deadlines and help to process information. They might ask questions that help you think about something in a different way or brainstorm different responses or approaches depending on the obstacle or goal. Mentors encourage you to look at a task or issue in different ways to find new approaches or solutions.

They share your values

Mentors understand what you are trying to accomplish and share the same views of how you define success. This enables them to empathize and prepare you for obstacles or conflicts you may encounter on the way to your goal.

They build relationships

Mentors are there for the long term and are relationship builders who can guide you in developing better work relationships. Mentors may advise on working with upper management or provide a deeper understanding of corporate politics. 

Different types of mentors

Here are some different types of mentors you might consider:

  • Relevant family members. Mentors may be found in family members who work in the same industry or who have retired. Family members have the advantage of knowing the mentee outside of a work environment and may provide valuable insight based on personal knowledge.
  • Industry professionals. Mentors employed by similar companies or industry professionals can offer different perspectives while providing experience and knowledge. 
  • Current or former supervisor. People who work inside your company may be very effective mentors. Managers or supervisors offer insight into the company culture and have a unique understanding of what it is required to advance.

You can consider working with a mentor from different areas of your personal or professional network.