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I've received multiple requests to be a mentor - how do I choose the ideal mentees, and how do I gently turn down the others?


Topic Expert
Samuel Dergel
Title: Director - Executive Search
Company: Stanton Chase International
LinkedIn Profile
(Director - Executive Search, Stanton Chase International) |

How do you gently turn down the others?

The first question is - why are you choosing to be a mentor? What do you hope to get out of it?

The second question is - how much time do you think you should invest in a mentor relationship? How much of that time do you actually have available (or can make available)?

It is good to be wanted. But it is also good to make a difference to the people requesting to be mentored.

You should meet with each of the people that want to be mentored. Find out what their needs are, so you can know who you can best help.

When you've decided who you will be a mentor to, you should help the ones that you have not chosen to find a good mentor. Now that you've met with them and know a bit about them, you are in the right position to help them find a mentor.

So, how do you gently turn them down?

Tell them that you think that you are not the best person to mentor them, and that you will work with them to help them find an appropriate mentor. You can also say that you have limited time to mentor, and that you've made your choice based on your ability to have the most impact. They also deserve a mentor who can have the most impact on them.

If you'd like to discuss it further, please feel free to reach me at samuelatdergelcfo [dot] com

Good luck,

Samuel Dergel, CPA, CA, CPC
Dergel CFO Search & Consulting
(201) 961-0838

John Krebsbach
Title: Co-Founder
Company: Relify
(Co-Founder, Relify) |

I've enjoyed the opportunity to mentor several individuals in a meaningful way. As Samuel points out, it's good to take a critical look at the whole situation before jumping in. Such as: are you the right person to mentor them? What can you offer? What do they need? Do you have the time to do it? Are they committed to it as well?

The reason I start there is because by answering those questions, you'll eventually come up with someone who's not a match for you as a mentee. The way I've handled it is to be open and honest and share with the person my thought process. It shows that you were sincere in considering there request, but here's why you think it won't work.

I recommend the book "The Elements of Mentoring" for both mentors and mentees alike.

-John Krebsbach

Topic Expert
Moshe Kravitz
Title: Director of Finance
Company: IDT Telecom
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, IDT Telecom) |

I agree with Samuel's response; my comments will echo many of his points and provide a few additional tidbits to ponder.

Which candidates to accept for mentoring:

One of the greatest pleasures for a teacher is to work with a very capable and eager student. Such a relationship is productive and rewarding for both mentor and mentee.

Another greatest pleasure is when you engage with a student who has not been very successful and somehow, due to your skill, approach, rapport and concern you are able to encourage this student and engender real progress and achievement. If you feel a rapport and concern for the candidate, propose a trial period of mentoring.

Training someone who will then be able to go and train others provides a high ROI for your efforts invested.

One relationship to avoid is one that will be taxing and not very productive.

What to say when not accepting a candidate:

If you would sincerely consider mentoring this person in the future, but now you’re full to capacity, then say that in a nice way. If it’s someone you’d rather not mentor, try to arrange a match with someone who would be willing to mentor this person. If you cannot find a substitute mentor, then you have to know your customer. To some people you can explain, in a totally non-demeaning way, that this mentoring relationship would not be successful. But say it in a way which shows respect for the person and is not open to challenge, such as, “Why wouldn’t it work?” or “Yes, I’m sure it would be fine.” Out of respect for the person, don’t leave him hoping for an opportunity to arise later, when you know that will never happen. To someone who cannot take this approach, simply say that you’re not able or not available to accommodate their request.

Side benefits:

When considering any mentoring opportunity, consider also the side benefits. Some examples might be
 developing a relationship with a professional in another area of the company
 being appreciated for helping to develop staff
 getting a fresh perspective on things as you ponder how to present them
learning from the good questions of an eager student

Think ahead:

How long will this mentoring relationship last? What if it doesn’t go well? What if it’s great but other responsibilities become overwhelming? Suggest an initial trial period and a time in the future to re-evaluate with option to renew or reneg.


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