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Introduction to Mentoring

mentor-totemWhat is the difference between coaching and mentoring? Is one better than the other?

We tend to find a combination of the two has the greatest impact.  Coaching and mentoring could be at either end of a wide scale. In pure terms:

Coaching would be empowering someone to find their own solutions – consisting of largely asking questions and listening.

Mentoring would be giving advice – consisting of mostly telling, less listening.

In reality though, these two extremes rarely have the positive impact of combining both techniques.

If we just ask questions, we do not give others the benefit of our own experience, learning and expertise.

If we just give advice, we do not give others the chance to reflect on how they could make that advice truly relevant to their situation and take action that is authentically theirs, rather than just trying to repeat what we did.

And so the recommendation is to take the best of both: Coaching with suggestions added in, and mentoring with questions and listening.

What does that look like?

Have you ever had someone give you advice, where you just nodded and smiled, thinking you’ll never do anything with it? This is what we want to avoid.

Great mentoring can be spotted by the interaction between mentor and mentee. The mentee looks engaged and beyond that is talking about how they can apply the mentor’s advice in their personal work situation.

How could you and your business benefit?

Research has revealed that mentoring is one of the most important ingredients to career progression. Hearing about another’s experience, how they have got around challenges in your business, your context, your structure, is the critical learning that enables us to navigate political pathways early on.

Rather than waiting for a new recruit or recently promoted manager to work out for themselves the ways in which things really work – you can use mentoring to show them quickly. That means reduced time to reaching optimum performance levels.

How can I apply this?

When you’re mentoring, consider using the following structure as a rough outline for a session:

  • Spend a few minutes at the start of each session building the relationship, getting to know the individual and letting them build trust with you
  • Ask them: What do you want to achieve in this session? Or, what’s on your mind at the moment?
  • Make sure you get a clear focus for the session, as this will ensure you have more than just a nice chat
  • Offer your advice, what’s worked well for you in that scenario, what hasn’t worked etc
  • Ask them what they think about that, how they could apply it to their situation, and what they will do before you meet again – commit to action


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Ability Tests

Ability tests measure a specific aptitude – an inherent talent.

If we are using ability tests to screen candidates for a role, we need to be really sure that we are screening for the right thing. Is a verbal reasoning test score really the measure of a great manager?

What are Ability Tests?

Tests are carefully and robustly designed to measure abilities objectively, and they must be completed under exam-like conditions to ensure the environment is as consistent as possible for all users.

Remember that ability tests only predict one small aspect of job performance – so you’ll need to have a clear idea of what else is critical to success in the role

What value do they add?

When the right test is used for the right reason, the validity can be greatly improved. This means that a correctly chosen ability test can measure how effective a person might be in a role better than any other single selection method. The key is in selecting the right test, and in recognising that the test only predicts one small aspect of overall performance.

For example, verbal reasoning test scores have been found to link strongly with job performance in management roles. This is hardly surprising given the demands on a manager’s communication skills. That said, verbal reasoning is only one part of overall management skill. Knowing a management candidate has strong verbal reasoning skill is a great start. What else do they have?

Ability tests add value to your selection process by telling you very quickly whether a candidate holds the inherent talents that are critical to success in the role. A common and valuable use of ability tests is in high volume recruitment, where it is great to use ability tests as a sifting tool.

What’s the downside?

Candidates tend to really dislike taking these tests, but then, those that are successful tend to consider that they have really ‘earned’ their place in the next stage of your process.

The major risk with these tests is that choosing the wrong test could mean that you are selecting against the wrong criteria.

How to gain maximum value

  • Complete a thorough job analysis before choosing test
  • Use tests as one part of your selection process, as they only measure one aspect of performance
  • Improve candidate perception by ensuring they know how the test relates to the requirements of the role and by giving them feedback
  • The BPS (British Psychological Society) ensures robustness in the design, publishing and use of ability tests – so make sure you use BPS approved tests, administered by BPS qualified users
  • Constantly review the process – are the tests providing you with strong candidates for the next stage of your process?
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