Mentoring Matching: Best Practices in Pairing Mentors and Mentees

Posted by jmeyer on June 21, 2022

Matching or pairing mentors with mentees for achieving maximally positive outcomes is the goal of any mentoring program. Long-term mentoring relationships, lasting one year or more, typically result in the most effective youth outcomes. Cultivating those beneficial relationships begins with finding the right fit between mentors and mentees.

Key matching considerations in a mentoring program

Gathering the right information from your program participants is a key first step to getting to know your mentors and mentees and creating mentoring relationships and an application process for both mentors and mentees (and parents or guardians of mentees) is a recommended practice. For example, knowledge of mentors’ and mentees’ geographical location, scheduling availability, personalities, vocational and educational interests, hobbies, skills, and so forth provides useful information for making successful long-term matches.

A cornerstone of mentoring programs has been to consider the race and ethnicity, interests, personal backgrounds and experiences, and other personal traits of mentors and mentees when matching. However, a shared race may not matter if the mentor and mentee don’t have anything in common or have personalities that don’t mesh. In fact, there is no single factor that you can use to determine the best match policy for your program.

A research study by Dr. Lillian Eby and colleagues, examining many different types of formal mentoring relationships, found that the extent to which the mentor and mentee reported deep-level similarities, such as similar attitudes, beliefs, values, and personal characteristics, were very important for helping mentees feel supported by their mentor. They recommend that matching should prioritize and foster feelings of similarity between the mentor and mentee to help them get to know one another and build a close relationship.

In addition, both mentors’ and mentees’ preferences for who they are matched with should also be taken into consideration. Soliciting mentor and mentee preferences can happen during the application process but also through meet and greet events that give everyone in need of a match a chance to interact and provide feedback on their preferences for matching.

As mentioned above, there are many different factors you want to consider when matching mentors and mentees, and it can get complicated to know what to prioritize. The best place to start with is the goals and mission of your mentoring program. These should drive the factors that you prioritize when matching mentors and mentees. For example, if your mentoring program is focused on helping mentees explore their future career interests, you might prioritize matching mentees with a mentor who has a career similar to their current interests.

The outcomes happen from the beginning

It can be impossible to match effectively if your program has recruited mentors who don’t possess the right characteristics in the first place. For example, being unable to pass a criminal background check may limit mentors’ opportunities with their mentees. Another challenge can be if a mentor has unrealistic or inaccurate expectations about what the experience will be like. These preconceived notions can be addressed and modified directly during pre-match training. Mentors also need to be able to commit the time required by the program and be adaptable to the needs of their mentees.

Attending a high-quality orientation meeting provides basic background information about the program’s goals, expectations, roles, and responsibilities, which can help mentors and mentees make the decision about whether or not to participate in and commit to the mentoring program and their mentoring relationship. In addition to a general orientation to the program, it has been determined that mentors with six hours of training or more had more closeness, time, and willingness to continue in the relationship than mentors with less than two hours of pre-match training. For mentors, training that builds their confidence and meets their motives or goals of choosing to be a mentor will help to secure their role in their mentoring relationship.

For youth, they must also know what to expect from their mentors and from being a mentee. Most mentees are enrolled in a mentoring program by a caring adult, usually a parent or guardian, and they may not fully understand how the program works. Learning about the goals and activities of the program can help to reduce any anxiety they may be feeling and can build their motivation for being in a good mentoring relationship.

A strong resource for creating strategies for pairing mentors and mentees is MENTOR’s Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring, which is available free of charge. It expands on what has been mentioned here and reviews the literature regarding tips for matching.

How Mentoring Central can help

From the outset, your mentoring program should have a set of written policies and procedures to guide the process of matching mentors and mentees in your program. As your mentoring program matures, these policies and procedures may change. This documentation is important for the overall efficiency and standardization of quality practices in your program. If your program needs help articulating and documenting your matching policies and procedures, Mentoring Central can assist in guiding you through that process.

At Mentoring Central, we have developed and evaluated web-based mentor training materials and other research-informed services designed to improve your program outcomes and achieve excellence while working within the parameters of your organization’s resources. The curriculum we developed for our mentor training program directly addresses the issues discussed in this blog, including the importance of making a commitment to building a mentoring relationship over time; having realistic expectations for your mentoring relationship and your mentee; and planning for the initial meeting with your mentee. Contact us for recommendations for the best training resources for your program.