When is the right time to have a mentor?

Do you have a mentor? I’ve benefitted from mentoring throughout my career and love nurturing Comms professionals through my business and via the Institute of Internal Communication.

Here at All Things IC, my team and I support internal communicators around the globe through consultancy, training and mentoring.

Feedback from clients reveals members of a Comms team sometimes feel more comfortable working with different members of our team, e.g. I mentor the Director of Comms and my colleague Caroline King mentors their team members.

Conversations are always kept confidential, and we’re finding having separate mentors supporting teams is working for you too.

When is the right time to have a mentor? I interviewed All Things IC Consultant Caroline to share her perspectives on mentoring.

To find out more about how we can support you, please see the mentoring pages of the All Things IC website. You can design your own plan, which could see you having a call once a month for three months, or even every week during an intense period of change or new role.

Look out for the final Candid Comms podcast episode of season two this weekend. It features one of my mentees, Melisa Kakas, Internal Communications Manager at British Business Bank and I, in conversation about mentoring.

When is the right time to have a mentor?


Rachel: What does mentoring mean to you?

Caroline: The word mentoring gives me a warm feeling because I credit it with changing the course of my career. However, I didn’t realise at the time that that was the case.

I love the fact that no two mentoring experiences are the same. There is no fixed definition. Mentoring is about creating a safe space to enable somebody to share their thoughts and ideas in a supported way. It’s not about moving mountains, it’s about gaining clarity, direction and a fresh perspective.

Rachel: Tell me about your experience of being mentored.

Caroline: I first considered mentoring when I had been in the same organisation for a long time and realised the only perspectives I was getting were from the inside. I knew that wasn’t healthy so I decided to find an external mentor to challenge and support me in a way that would complement the internal support that was already in place for me.

When I found myself at a crossroads later in my career, I chose a new mentor to help me to visualise my future.

That was important as my previous mentor knew too much about me at that stage so independent viewpoint was diminished and the level of challenge was not the same.

Rachel: I’m curious to know, did you choose your mentor or did a mentor find you?

Caroline: Choosing my first mentor was a bit unorthodox. Some of my colleagues were being allocated mentors, but I knew I need to pick my own. I wanted a strong personality to challenge me, so I did some research and found somebody I knew I would click with.

Rachel: Did you need to gain internal support before you started being mentored?

Caroline: Yes and no. Fortunately my manager was used to receiving mentoring and coaching herself, so she didn’t need convincing about its benefits. She agreed that I had been introspective for too long and was glad that I felt ready to develop myself in this way. My first mentor agreed to support me for free and meet at the start or end of the working day, which helped to sell in the idea.

Rachel: What advice would you give to somebody who is considering mentoring but isn’t sure how to gain the internal support they might need? When is the right time to have a mentor?

Caroline: I recommend you are clear in your own head on these few points as they will help you to make a case for mentoring:

  1. What do you want to achieve?

Are you considering a change in your career or role? Your manager and team might not be aware of this, and you may not be comfortable saying you want external help to support your career development.

Is there a professional problem looming where you would benefit from extra support? Your colleagues are more likely to be aware of this and you solving that problem might be in their best interests.

  1. How will mentoring work alongside your relationship with your manager?

They should be kept separate. It should always be your choice whether you share details of any of your mentoring discussions. If mentoring is working well for you, your manager is likely to see some subtle changes in behaviour and attitude. You should never feel as though you must explain what goes on in a mentoring discussion as that would compromise the entire experience.

  1. Will mentoring benefit your organisation and help you to deliver on your goals?

If you are looking to invest in your personal development, your organisation will always benefit from it. This will help you determine when the right time is to have a mentor. Focused 1-2-1 support might enable you to be more productive or a more confident practitioner or leader. It will almost certainly boost your confidence. If mentoring helps you to achieve any of those outcomes, your organisation will benefit. Your goals and objectives will thank you too.

  1. What will you do if you don’t get the support you need?

You need to be honest about whether you have an internal and external network of peers or trusted contacts in place and then consider how mentoring could complement that. Before I had my first ever mentoring session, I had spent time developing networks of peers within my sector and the communications profession.

Over tea and cake, we laughed and cried about our experiences and supported each other on a very practical level. Internally I always recommend a few trusted peers you can rely on and found that the colleagues who were struggling when the pressure was on, often didn’t have that safety net to fall back on.

Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen and a push in the right direction.

Rachel: Mentoring and coaching is often reserved for senior leaders within an organisation. What is your view on that?

Caroline: This is something that has frustrated me over the years as it can mean that those transitioning from doing to thinking or leading positions can be left behind. When I look back at my own career, the first-time mentoring support would have helped me was when I changed from being the only person in the Comms team to being the leader of a team overnight.

There was no rule book to refer to. I learned day by day. Having a sounding board that encouraged me and was a safe outlet to share my thoughts and questions with would have made such a difference.

Another example was when my organisation merged with another. Although I was more senior, I was stuck in the middle of the organisation and not an obvious candidate for mentoring from a hierarchical perspective. Suddenly, I went from being well established, respected and trusted, to having to develop new relationships with key people while spinning a lot of plates and getting my voice heard.

My mentor was my safe outlet during this period. He helped me navigate the changes, provided some tough challenges but ultimately helped me to position myself effectively in a larger organisation and new culture.

Caroline King All Things IC

Rachel: How long does it take for mentoring to have an impact?

Caroline: As you know from your own mentoring experiences, this varies a lot. It depends on the objective. If somebody has a clear mentoring goal in mind, they might get to where they want to be in a handful of sessions.

Other people may take longer. Having a small number of sessions with a mentor makes sense up front to ensure that connection is there. The quality of the mentoring relationship is an important success factor.

Rachel: Who do you like mentoring the most?

Caroline: I love listening and problem solving with all types of people. But I particularly enjoy supporting people who are experiencing a change in responsibility. Often a change in role. Their to do list is already bursting but suddenly a whole new category of actions have appeared, namely navigating changes in stakeholder relationships, and managing their personal brand and influence.

This can be overwhelming as this is the point somebody is looking for a sense of direction and usually there isn’t one. Knowing you have an independent sounding board, who cares about your success, but sits on the outside, can really help.

Rachel: What is the most satisfying part of being a mentor?

Caroline: As a mentor, it is incredibly satisfying to sit down with a mentee who enters the discussion frayed and overwhelmed and gets to the end breathing a sigh of relief. They get there through their own hard work. The mentor just provides the prompts, pauses and encouragement to get them there.

Rachel: Finally, what is it like to be mentored by you?

Caroline: I want the people I mentor to feel safe, supported and able to be themselves. To be assured that whatever they say will stay between us. Confidentiality is key. To know I won’t judge them, whatever they say.

I find it easy to tune into what people might be thinking behind the words they say. I use those subtle clues to guide my approach. I always ask what somebody hopes to achieve at the start and give them space to offload before we focus in on the most important issues of the day.

Ultimately what drives me is helping people to be the best they can be. There is no blueprint for that. I use my eyes, ears, instincts and heart to guide me through. This quote sums it up for me:

A mentor is not someone who walks ahead of you to show how they did it. A mentor walks alongside you to show you what you can do.

Thank you for sharing your mentoring perspectives Caroline.

If you want to find out more about the mentoring options we offer, please see the mentoring section of our website. You can create your own bespoke mentoring plan. Some Comms professionals choose to speak with an All Things IC Consultant once a month for three or six months, while others speak more frequently.

Thank you for stopping by, do look out for Melisa’s podcast episode this weekend.


Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 5 August 2021.

How to be a strategic internal communicator


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