AMA Highlights: The 5x reason you need a mentor

Recruiting & Staffing


Nick Westall, CTO at CACI, joined us in Venturi’s Voice Slack on the 28th of March to host an ‘Ask Me Anything’.


A seasoned mentor both in the tech sector and via mentoring programs at the Open University Business School and Toastmasters Nick was happy to answer questions on all aspects of the mentor, mentee relationship. You read over the whole transcript over in our Slack channel, Venturi’s Voice.


Below are the highlights from the event.


Question by @Charlotte

Hi Nick, looking forward to this AMA. I’m a huge fan of mentoring but it was only ever introduced as a ‘nice to have thing’ and I found I had to really battle in my organisation to get a mentor (Being Microsoft, it wasn’t necessarily a corporate level issue, but within the team and satellite offices, it was largely misunderstood or unknown).

What tips do you have for anyone who wants to introduce such a scheme to their team/department/organisation? HR? Senior Leadership?

It can really be hit-and-miss on whether your Corporate supports mentoring.  It’s quite a progressive activity, and unless there is a rallying point (HR or someone in a leadership position) it can be hard to start from scratch.

I believe you can almost always be the master of your own fate.  Start yourself and start small. It doesn’t need to be a corporate thing – it can start informally

If you are looking for a mentor – find someone you respect in the organisation who you think can help – and ask them.  Say you respect them, and think they could help you with XYZ, and would they be willing to mentor you by meeting for coffee and a chat once a month.

If there is a team or a group at work ask them if anyone would be interested.  Work with those who are. Others will come around later by word of mouth. You can act as the facilitator to get the first few going.  Once you can demonstrate some level of success you can reach out for official corporate support

Unless the Corporate is already in the mentoring mindset – its best to start small and start local – or hook in with an outside group, e.g. women in industry, a trade association, academic alumni, etc…



Question by @Amanda Davie

I understand that some mentors are very clear and boundaries in terms of not also being a sponsor or introducer. Have you come across this? Where is the boundary line? And is it common to have both a sponsor and mentor?

It all depends on how comfortable and well placed the mentor is as to whether they also hold a role of sponsor and/or introducer.  I’d suggest that as a mentor you are likely to have been selected by the mentee because you have knowledge and experience of resources (including personal contacts) that can help them with their journey.  I have been happy to introduce and sponsor mentees where I feel comfortable with the mentee, and the introducee’s willingness to be brought together. It is not always the case. Sometimes I’ll take advice from someone in my network and pass this on to the mentee where they didn’t want to be introduced.



Question by @Tommy G

You mentioned in your article a good mentoring relationship requires building trust quickly. What if that isn’t an option? Say you can only meet your mentor once a month, how would you proceed?

Meeting once a month is not uncommon, in fact, most of my mentoring runs to a ~4-week cycle.

Mentors are often people you already know and respect for their skill or knowledge, or they may be a peer.  In these cases, the relationship is already there enough to get things going.

If you’re able to build in an extra session at the beginning this can help establish the relationship and determine how you will work together.

If you are absolutely stuck with a single face-to-face meeting then focus on getting to know each other, understand the objective of the mentoring, and next steps.  You can always have a phone/skype call to supplement the first call.

While face-to-face is ideal to accelerate the relationship building bit at the beginning – voice-to-voice can work really well too. In fact, all of my OUBS (Open University business school) mentoring has been Skype-based!



Question by @Sam Davis

Thanks for sending the article over Nick. In it you said that the ‘mentee’s do the heavy lifting’. Is there a common misconception about the role of mentors in this regard? Have you had experiences where people have arrived for a mentoring session expecting a lecture or lesson? How do you mediate that situation when it happens?

Thank you for the question, Sam.

It can depend on how the mentee came to find their mentor.  If its a structured programme run to bring mentors & mentees together and facilitate the process then the mentee usually has a clear understanding of how its likely to work.

Where there has been a less informal introduction – usually outside of a structured scheme – you can gently cover it during or before the first meeting when you are qualifying what the mentee would like to achieve.  At the very least you will come up against it when your discussion results in something the mentee needs to do. This could happen when the mentor sign-posts a resource or activity for the mentee to complete as a next step.

That said – there is usually a fuzzy line between outright mentoring and coaching.  You are likely to coach a mentee in the process they are going through – sometimes it is easy to lightly coach them so they get through it quickly (if time is of the essence) or point them in the direction of a subject matter expert who can take them through that stage. You need flexibility on each side. What works best for the mentee and your available time.



Question by @Amanda Davie

In your experience, in today’s workplace, what % of mentors (roughly) are paid for their time/advice/support?

I do not have any hard facts on the percentage of paid mentors.  My gut feel is that the greatest amount of mentoring is free through informal or organisational schemes.  Paid engagements tend to be through agencies and consultancies where there is a specific business need or deficiency.

Quite a few agencies (e.g. OUBS) charge a small admin fee to run their mentoring scheme for their members, and the mentors provide their services free of charge.  This approach means there is some skin in the game for the mentee – they are committing money as well as time to the process.