Mentoring and coaching

What is the difference? 

Coaching and mentoring are not the same thing. The approach, timescale and focus of a mentor and coach are different so it is important to understand these differences from the beginning, so you choose the most appropriate support for your needs.


Mentoring is a form of one-to-one support where a more experienced colleague uses their knowledge, skills and connections to help someone with their current and future challenges. It has been shown to have a positive effect on individuals’ career success.

A mentor is often described as a “critical friend” or “supportive challenger,” because they have a role in helping people become more self-aware and to take responsibility for solving their own problems. However, mentors are distinct from most coaches in that they have often walked the same path before, and use their own experience to support the mentee. They may be able to help with general professional and career advice, or may have particular expertise that is relevant to the mentee’s situation. For example, they may be very successful at engaging industry in research, or at managing people, while the mentee is only starting to develop in those areas.


A coach, on the other hand, need know nothing about the work you do or your workplace. Coaching is 'Unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.' (Whitmore)

Coaching is focused guidance and support, usually delivered by a trained internal or external coach over a fixed timescale, with the intention of helping a person with a particular challenge or transition.

Coaches work with their coachees, on a 1-1, confidential and voluntary basis, to help them address specific work-related challenges around people or projects, or issues relating to career development. They do not fix the coachee's problems but use advanced skills of listening, questioning, feedback and reflection to create highly effective conversations with a range of techniques and diagnostic tools at their disposal.

Support in difficult situations

If neither coaching nor mentoring are what you are looking for, the following links may be useful: