Bootcamp: Recruiting & Retaining Mentors

On January 29, 2021, the Alberta Mentorship Program hosted the first of our boot camps focusing on recruiting and retaining mentors. We are trying to use our Start-Up Boot Camps as a community learning space to have questions and discussion that complement the topics covered in our Community Calls. The mission of the Alberta Mentorship Program is to create a culture of mentorship. With just a few online events, we are already seeing how bringing a group of people working on mentorship programs together can produce collaborative ideas and support for each other.

“I am loving the spirit of generosity that is here,” says AMP Program Manager Cheryl Whitelaw. “The goal is to really build that culture of mentorship, and we are going to look for ways to continue to build it.”

Azumme Degan, Director of the Edmonton Region Immigrant Employment Council (ERIEC) Career Mentorship Program lead the boot camp presentation supported by Sarah Tangan, Mentorship Facilitator at ERIEC; Doug Piquette, Executive Director at ERIEC; and Bruce Randall, Executive Director of the Calgary Region Immigrant Employment Council (CRIEC).

With two years of experience leading ERIEC’s Career Mentorship Program and experience being a mentee, Azumme is a valuable voice in discussions on the challenges of recruiting mentors. She went quickly from participating in to managing the program. Azumme and her team have first-hand program experience and bring a passion for creating an effective program that works for the mentors and mentees. “What we are sharing is not textbook,” she says. “We are sharing our experience.”

Want more expert advice and to ask your questions about mentorship? Learn more about our other Start-Up Boot Camps.

Laying the Foundation

Mentors are in many ways the key to your program, so you need to start thinking about recruiting mentors from the very beginning. Regardless of how awesomely-designed a mentoring program is, the success of the program will hinge on the recruitment, retention, and commitment of mentors.

These are three things to consider separately with mentor engagement:

  1. Recruitment: Getting the mentors signed up, trained, and ready to participate.
  2. Retention: When mentors are willing to stay involved for more mentoring relationships and to remain actively in your contact list.
  3. Commitment: Mentors who are not just available but actively engaged in your programs and eager to help multiple mentees.

Ideally, you will retain many of your mentors and keep their commitment level high. This can reduce the load on recruiting for each session. You will always need to recruit, but as you lay a foundation of committed mentors, you will find that it gets easier.

The best situation is to not only have a good list of mentors with a variety of experiences to draw from for your mentees but also the confidence that most mentors on your list are still available and ready to support another mentee.

Targeted Recruitment

Recruiting the mentors who will be committed to the program requires a thoughtful recruitment process. Targeted recruitment guarantees not only that your program will hit its benchmarks, but that the types of individuals you recruit will also be up to the task. Targeted Recruitment is in part about recruiting mentors with the experience that best matches your mentees. It is also about finding the mentors who value what your program is doing and understand how mentoring can benefit them and their own career.

Read more: Why Be a Mentor?

When you are speaking to your mentors, know that they sign up for a reason. You can best motivate your potential mentors by really understanding why they are interested and speaking to their motivations and beliefs directly. When your program can support their “WHY” for volunteering as a mentor, you will find these mentors who are most committed to your program and your mentees. For example, it is often the people who are internationally educated professionals who have either had a mentor and understand the benefit of the mentor, or they did not have a mentor when they were first looking for work and understand how that would have helped them. This firsthand experience helps them to relate to the benefits of mentorship.

Read more: The Recruitment Conversation

Define Mentor Recruitment Criteria

To understand who your ideal mentors are, you need to have a baseline of criteria for your mentors. These criteria could include:

  • Level of education
  • Years of experience
  • Professional background
  • Personal qualities

The criteria can be whatever your team feels is needed in terms of experience and personal qualities.

Read more: Recruiting Mentees & Mentors

Screening Interviews

The intrinsic personal qualities can be hard to identify in a resume or an application form. An interview (in person or via phone) with potential candidates can help you find those people who really fit with the values and goals of your program. It can be a formal interview or informal chat about what motivates them and why they are interested in volunteering. It seems like more work to do interviews, but it is an effective way to make sure that you are welcoming the right people. The vast majority are volunteering for the right reasons, but there have been a few that have been problematic because either their expectations or their values are not aligned with your program. During the interview, you can see if there is going to be an issue. It is not rejecting a volunteer but guiding them towards a better fit for volunteering.

Reference Checks

Doing an informal reference check can be a good practice. This can be as simple as a referral from another participant or partner or calling a provided reference. It can also be a second level of due diligence for a person who you are not sure is a right fit.

While doing formal police checks may be something that mentorship programs need to do in the future, ERIEC and CRIEC do not do to them now. If your program is focused on mentoring minors, this would be a critical safety step.

Saying No

Not everyone will meet your mentorship program criteria. This is okay. Azumme recommends turning those people down with a referral or a redirect. “It is important to appreciate them and give them a place where their skill can be at use if you can,” she says.

They want to give back so referring them to a different type of organization or opportunity that might fit them better is an effective way to redirect them. Or, if they have a good skill set but you do not currently have a match for them, let them know that you do not have a place for them now but you might later. If you find a willing volunteer who is not a fit to be a mentor, maybe they will be able to help in other capacities. Or encourage them to attend events with your program or other local organizations.

Recruitment Channels

Advertising: Mainstream Media and Social Media

Mainstream media is expensive and paid advertisements are usually out of reach for non-profits. But some television and radio stations will have free ad spots for non-profits. With the right angle, you may be able to pitch an article or a segment about your program with local media. The more local stations are often looking for local news stories.

Social media is affordable but noisy. It can be hard to capture the attention of your audience on social media. But social media is often a place where potential recruits will look for you. It can also help you connect with other local organizations and partners who host related events or programs.

It takes time and effort to build a social media presence. Be patient!

  • Focus on one or two before adding more accounts. LinkedIn can be good as a professional forum for mentors and mentees. Facebook and Twitter are also common for businesses and non-profits.
  • Use images and videos to catch attention. Affordable programs such as Canva can help you create professional images or use the graphics that we share on the AMP accounts.
  • Do more than just recruit on your account. Share information and related articles so you are adding value for your followers.

Networks, Connections, and Community Partners

Connecting to the people and organizations you already know is a great way to draw on your social capital. Offer to provide information sessions to prospective mentors via these connections. It will allow them to ask questions and provide clarity to spur them into action. Let potential corporate mentoring partners know that you can support the professional development of their employees through mentorship. When potential mentors and partners understand what you are offering, they are more likely to volunteer or partner.

Cold-Calling and Emailing

Almost everyone hates cold-calling. But it does work often enough that it is a useful tool. Cold-calling can include emailing or using LinkedIn messaging to connect to potential mentors. Not everyone will respond but you might make some new connections.

Just remember to always be polite and respectful. No one owes you a “yes,” so accept the responses you get and move on to the next contact. Always be clear of the following over the phone, email, or LinkedIn:

  • Who you are representing
  • Your purpose, which is asking them to be a mentor
  • Why you think they will be a good fit based on their skills or experience

Use a pre-drafted or scripted message but update it for each person you contact. If you are using LinkedIn, you will need an up-to-date profile with a photo and correct employment information.

Word of Mouth

People selling you for you is the best marketing. It is imperative to work towards ensuring that mentors have a good mentoring experience and tackling any challenges that might arise with transparency and quickly. When mentors feel valued, supported, and appreciated, they are more likely to share information about your program and encourage friends and connections to join. They are also more likely to stay with the program.

If your mentors and mentees do not have an enjoyable experience, they can also provide a negative perspective about your program. You cannot please everyone, but doing your best to support mentors and mentees can help your participants market your program for you.

Recruitment Tips

Azumme has several tips for programs struggling with recruitment:

  • The best thing you can do during recruitment is be clear in your communications and set the expectations for what mentors are expected to do or not to do. Have a specific expectation for the time commitment required. Let mentors know they are a support and advisor for the mentee but not expected to find them a job. Read more: Define Program Expectations
  • Show how there is value for mentors in professional development for their leadership and communication skills.
  • Encourage your former mentees to consider becoming mentors. Mentees have that firsthand experience of what it was like to be a mentee. Some of the best mentors are former mentees because they already understand the value and the program.
  • Share your success stories. Start gathering them from the beginning. Even better, have your mentors and mentees share their own stories at events and presentations. They can sell the program better than you can.
  • Record numbers (mentors, mentees, and employment rate) and share that information as applicable. Show your growth and successes through statistics.

Mentor Retention

If your mentors stay with the program, half your work is done. Most mentors’ willingness to continue mentoring is often tied to how confident they are in their mentoring skills.

  • Build relationships with your mentors and mentees. If they feel comfortable and supported, they are more likely to come back.
  • Provide incentives to participate in the program, value-added options like training and workshops.
  • Create mentor support groups so they can share their experience and can help each other while they are networking with like-minded people.
  • Incorporate mentor recognition and appreciation into your program.
  • Create feedback channels and surveys so you know what is working and what needs improvement.
  • Check in on your mentoring matches so you can make sure that they are having a successful mentoring relationship.
  • Thank your mentors and mentees for their participation in the program.

Remember to challenge your assumptions of who might be a good mentor. “Don’t assume mentors need 25 years of experience,” says Bruce. Mentors can come at all ages and experiences. “A mentor may have only 2 years of experience, but have the energy and ideas to be a great mentor.” They might be the person who stays with the program and mentors for years.

Program Support for Mentors

The best thing you can do for your mentors is provide resources, orientation, and clear expectations. If they feel supported and equipped with valuable information, they will feel more confident and successful.

During the program, check in on your mentoring matches so you can ensure that they are having a successful mentoring relationship. Some of them may not need a lot of support or outside help, others will want more from you. The key is to be available so the match knows that they have the extra support if they need it.

Need Program Resources? AMP has samples and templates for you, your mentors, and your mentees. Review our Resource Guide.

Small Victories Add Up

When you look at established programs, you are seeing a view of your future. The work you are putting in now will help you build and develop a program that is right for your community.

“Doug and I were exactly where you are a decade ago," says Bruce.

“Those little victories add up over the days and weeks and months,” says Doug. “And you know you have a mentorship family now.”

This does not mean that your program must look like ERIEC, CRIEC, or any other mentorship program. As we develop more programs in Alberta, we can continue to build more examples and experiences of how mentorship can work in different communities across the province. Our boot camps are an example of how we want to be able to create that mentoring culture in Alberta where we can all support each other and grow together. Doug from ERIEC, Bruce from CRIEC, and their teams are happy to be accessible to help other mentorship programs across Alberta, especially those supporting newcomers to Canada.

“We don’t have all the answers,” says Doug, “but we can work together to find solutions together.”

Learn More

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.

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