Getting the most from mentoring - Museums Association

Getting the most from mentoring

Our guide on finding a mentor and getting the most out of the experience
Tamsin Russell

Mentoring is a one-to-one intervention that involves a professional supporting the development of an individual.

The relationship is led by the mentee, who identifies what they want to develop. Using a range of tools and techniques, the mentor supports the mentee to reflect, share and experiment to develop their confidence and competence.

The key difference between coaching and mentoring is that the mentor must have experience in the role or sector in which they are mentoring.

The mentor may also, with permission, provide more detailed insights to support development than a coach would.

This “lived experience” can be most helpful if you are in the early stages of your career, as the mentor will have greater insight and connectedness within the sector.

Other benefits include ring-fenced time to develop your specific needs.


Finding a mentor

There are three types of mentoring:

  • As part of a formal professional development programme such as the Associateship of the Museums Association (MA).
  • A standalone programme, such as the MA’s Mentoring for All.
  • An informal mentoring arrangement.

Finding a mentor through a formal programme such as the ones above means you are guaranteed that the mentor has been trained and has access to additional support, should you or they need it as part of the mentoring relationship.

The mentoring may also be more structured and have a defined timescale to provide focus.

Other sector bodies, such as the Group for Education in Museums and the UK Registrars Group, also offer formal mentoring programmes.


If you want a less formal or structured mentoring relationship, it is best to look for someone outside of your own organisation, as this will enable you to be more honest about your challenges.

If you have been inspired by someone, then why not start a conversation – it might be a one-off mentoring session or it could lead to a longer-term relationship. Which mentor?

Mentors come in all shapes and sizes. Each will have their own style and approach – based on their experience and grounded in good practice – but they will all be different, in the same way that not all mentees are the same.

If you are looking for a mentor, it can be helpful to reflect on what you want to get out of the mentoring experience, as this will affect the choices you make.

You might want someone who is skilled in mentoring at a sector level, as opposed to someone working within the same discipline – or you might want someone who is working in a different field or in a type of organisation you are interested in.

You may want a mentor who is from a similar background to you or have a similar personality or way of thinking. Conversely, you might want someone who will see things from an entirely different perspective.


How you make these choices often depends on the formality of the mentoring, and whether you can gain access to a mentor profile, for example.

If it is an informal relationship, then putting the following questions to potential mentors may help:

  • What do you enjoy about mentoring?
  • Have you mentored someone at a similar career stage?
  • How have you supported someone in the past?

These questions will help you work out whether this person is a good fit for you.

Working together

It is good practice for mentees and mentors to discuss how they will work together. This is called contracting and often results in a mentoring agreement. A mentoring agreement can include:

  • Frequency of meeting.
  • Session and relationship length.
  • Contact and response windows.
  • Dealing with issues or tensions.

This is the foundation of a good relationship and should be reviewed and referred to where applicable.

Getting the most out of mentoring

Mentoring is led by mentees, who dictate the pace and focus of the development. The mentor is there to hold the space for you.

Appreciating this is the best way to get the most out of mentoring – you are an active participant, you are not being spoon-fed information or solutions, and the mentor is there to encourage and support.

Another way in which to get the most out of mentoring is to ensure that you are in the “zone”. Ringfence time before and after sessions so you can prepare and apply your learning respectively.

Finally, reflect on whether the mentoring is providing you with what you want. 

A mentor’s ‘lived experience’ can be particularly helpful to people in the early stages of their career.

Tamsin Russell is the workforce development lead at the Museums Association

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