On February 11, 2021, the Alberta Mentorship Program hosted our third boot camp. This session discussed how to match mentors and mentees. Our Start-Up Boot Camps are a community learning space to cover important topics for new and growing mentorship programs.
Bao Ho, Mentoring Partnerships Coordinator at the Calgary Region Immigrant Employment Council (CRIEC) lead the boot camp presentation supported by Bruce Randall, Executive Director of CRIEC; and Doug Piquette, Executive Director of Edmonton Region Immigrant Employment Council (ERIEC).
On the surface, matching mentors and mentees is simple. Find a mentor who has a similar professional background to the mentee and put them together. Simple.
But the reality is that there is an art to matching mentors and mentees, limited in part by the fact that you will not always have the perfect match based on application criteria.
“We don’t use the algorithms. We learned long ago that the algorithms don’t work for us,” says Bao. The algorithms are programs that collect information about mentors and mentees and match them automatically. At CRIEC and ERIEC, they found that they make better mentoring matches with the human touch. Bao recommends that programs start with the criteria but add interviews, your observations and notes, and work with the mentors and mentees that you have available.
"We do it the old-fashioned way,” says Bruce. “We match people.”
Want more expert advice and to ask your questions about mentorship? Learn more about our other Start-Up Boot Camps.
When you have recruited a new mentor, it is critical to make sure that they feel equipped and prepared to meet your expectations. Part of this is sharing the stories of successful mentoring matches to show how a mentor’s time can make a difference for mentees but also be a valuable personal and professional experience.
Bao meets with each of their mentors for a 10-to-15-minute conversation. This conversation will confirm eligibility, but it will also assess their preparedness to be a mentor and their availability and what they hope to gain from being a mentor.
“The more we know our mentors, the better we match them with mentees,” says Bao. “If we know their passion and interests, we can do a better job of matching.”
After the interview, Bao adds notes to the mentor’s profile so that when potential mentees arrive, these details help him finetune matches. Gathering these details when you recruit a new mentor, will save you time later. “Sometimes we can’t match a mentor because we don’t have enough details,” says Bao.
All new mentors are also provided with:
CRIEC has two steps for mentee assessment. The first is to review the application and make sure that they meet the hard criteria (see CRIEC mentee criteria) including that they are employment-ready, internationally educated professionals.
The next assessment step is an interview to review the mentee's soft skills and goals, and to go over CRIEC's expectations in a formal mentorship program. This will help the mentoring team assess if the mentee is ready to commit now and is the right fit for the program. Just like understanding your mentors, knowing your mentees' goals are for mentorship will help you make stronger matches. Because mentorship is about a relationship at its heart, matching on more than just the professional criteria is valuable.
CRIEC has chosen to do a rolling intake. This means that whenever they have an available mentee and mentor match, they start immediately. There are some advantages to the rolling intake. It is flexible and reduces the time mentees are waiting to meet their mentor. It allows Bao to focus on each match as they go through orientation and mentoring. However, it can be more time-consuming. Since you are doing individual orientations, it is less efficient than group sessions.
“If we’ve done 70 matches, I’ve done 70 assessments and 70 orientations,” says Bao. But for CRIEC, it is working and gives Bao and his colleagues time to meet the needs of each of their mentees.
After the mentee is accepted, CRIEC works on finding them a match. During this time, all mentees get a one-on-one orientation with Bao or a mentorship team member. This orientation will provide information about the 16-week structure of the program and expectations.
“We don’t keep our mentees on a shelf,” says Bao, but it can take weeks or months to find a match that is a fit. For mentors, it can take even longer depending on whether their profession is often in demand by mentees. Rolling intake does not mean that the process will go quickly. Regardless of rolling or cohort models, it takes time to make the right match.
Read more: Learn about ERIEC’s Cohort intake and application process in Recruiting Ready Mentees.
Once Bao has created a profile for a new mentee, he follows a manual matching process to find them a mentor:
"When we suggest a match to our mentors, they can always say no," says Bao. "If they say no, it is often due to the unavailability or they feel like the profession is not the best match for them." Giving the mentors the ability to opt out ensures that they are committed when they are available, and they are more likely to stay on your list of potential mentors.
During this process, the matching team adds to the mentor's profile so CRIEC's mentoring team knows whether they:
"This is essential for to find a healthy source of mentors with who we can follow up," says Bao, "and to avoid contacting them repeatedly if they are being matched or are unavailable."
Consider mentor experience when making a match. A first-time mentor might not be a good match for a mentee facing a lot of challenges, whereas a more experienced mentor might be. A mentee who has a skill set that is in demand, with less complicated challenges, is a better fit for a first-time mentor.
Each mentor will have a personal mentoring style, and not all styles are suited to all mentees. For example, CRIEC has a long-time mentor who meets with a potential match before deciding because he has high expectations. He will provide homework assignments and they create mutual accountability goals. Often his mentees are very successful, but it is a demanding mentoring partnership. Mentees have multiple competing responsibilities and challenges. They may not have the time or energy for such structured expectations.
Other mentors like to work with more flexibility and work with a mentee's current challenges to frame their discussions and goals. This freeform structure can work well with some mentees but leave others floundering.
"Some mentors love the one cup of coffee kind of mentoring," says Bao. CRIEC invites them to be part of the Connector Mentoring Program. They meet mentees for a cup of coffee and discuss ways to network and look for work, and they refer them to other people and organizations who can help the mentee. It is short-term and easy to fit into a busy schedule.
There are also mentors who feel like they can mentor people outside of their profession. They can be a great fit for a mentee who is looking at transition skills or a change of direction. Maybe there is no work in their field and they need to look for other career paths. An experienced mentor with a lot of different career experiences can be a great match, even if they aren't in the same profession.
There is no magic matching formula, but the more you know and the more experience you have, the better you will get at matching mentors and mentees.
You will not have mentees for all your available mentors, especially as your list of potential mentors grows. But it is good to keep those mentors engaged so when you have a mentee to match with them, they are still ready and available. This will also help you develop a deep pool of mentors which will improve your matches.
You can do this in several ways:
Not all mentors will be repeat mentors but providing ways they can learn and connect will make them more likely to remain available when you need them.
Because Bruce was a lawyer in his previous career, CRIEC was able to support internationally educated lawyers from the beginning. Supporting mentees who are looking for work in a regulated profession can be an added challenge.
There is a lot more time involved in mentoring a lawyer. "We have found it to be about 18 months so we have developed this differently," says Bao.
CRIEC offers workshops and webinars and has a staff member who is a specialist about what is involved for lawyers. To be certified in Canada, internationally educated lawyers must pass an exam, complete articling, and be called to the bar.
CRIEC has found that mentors are most effective in the articling phase and beyond. Mentors are not interested in being a study buddy, but they are interested in helping them learn about being a lawyer in Canada.
While CRIEC has set up a successful process for lawyers that can help other regulated professions, it is not easy to duplicate. CRIEC refers some people to profession-specific organizations that are better able to support them, such as doctors, nurses, or radiologists. Often these people return to CRIEC for mentoring support later when they are ready to look for work in their profession.
Once the match is made, Bao coordinates the first meeting. For the first meeting, Bao does the initial introduction (either in person or online) and encourages them to share their backgrounds.
“I always say, I’m not going to talk too long in this meeting,” but he does review the program expectations and framework and introduces the Mentoring Partnership Agreement. The agreement is a commitment to respecting one another, having professional behavior, and setting expectations for each other. This can set the groundwork for a fruitful and productive partnership.
Before he leaves, Bao encourages the mentoring partners to set a regular date. "At that point, they really drive the bus themselves," he says.
CRIEC gives them the handbook with suggestions for topics of conversation and a roadmap but he encourages them to be flexible. He lets them choose what they emphasize, what they skip, and what order they discuss things in to make it work for the challenges that the mentee is facing now.
"Each partnership is going to be unique because our mentor and mentee needs will be different," says Bao. The magic of mentorship is when the mentoring partners really click and find their own path through the 16-week program.
Even if the mentor and mentee self-direct their relationship, it is important they know that you are always available if they need you. Bao has set email check-ins at one month and three months. It's an opportunity to make sure that they are still meeting and to deal with questions.
Sometimes a mentor and mentee will not click or priorities change. Other times they need some strategies to enhance communication or to connect to additional resources. Bao will help troubleshoot any challenges. For example, he might suggest 20-minute meetings instead of 1-hour meetings or a different frequency.
Being available when you are needed improves the success rate of your participants. It also increases the chances that mentees will return to the program as mentors.
After 16 weeks, CRIEC closes the formal mentorship regardless of how often the mentoring partners meet. Sometimes they choose to continue to meet to complete the mentoring process, but it is not required. Bao will follow up with the mentor and mentee to get feedback from the participants right away. He will also follow up with mentees three and six months later to see how they are progressing.
"We thank them and celebrate and appreciate them," says Bao. "Always ask mentors if they will come back. And ask the mentees if they are willing to become mentors in a few years."
"It is a very strength-based system," says Bruce. "We try to connect people based on the strengths of what they can offer each other."
When you are starting out, if you have just 10-12 mentors take the time to show support and appreciate them. That is where CRIEC started in their first year, but by the end of year two, they had 50 mentors.
"We went for the depth in our mentors rather than breadth, but now we have both," says Bruce.
Over the past decade, Bruce has seen things shift and shift again. There have been trends in which professions are having a hard time finding jobs or the age of mentees. But within these changes, the fundamental work of matching people stays the same. It is about finding the best ways to match and support their mentoring partnerships.
"We consider it a mark of success that so many of our alumni have come back to be mentors," says Bruce.
Catch up on the recruitment discussions in our previous Community Calls and Boot Camps:
Need Program Resources? AMP has samples and templates for you, your mentors, and your mentees. Review our Resource Guide.
AMP Start-Up Bootcamps are provided support from the Government of Alberta - Labour and Immigration, Workforce Strategies.