How To Answer “Who Is Your Mentor?” (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar - Mar. 4, 2021
Articles In Guide

Find a Job You Really Want In

When a hiring manager takes note of your strengths and abilities in your resume, that doesn’t mean you will be hired. Before you get a job offer you have to undergo an interview process.

It’s essential to be prepared for your job interview. Your performance under pressure as the interviewers ask you a series of tough questions will determine whether you get the job or not.

To prepare for the interview, you need to learn the answers to common questions. One of the tough interview questions you need to have an answer to includes a question on mentorship. Research shows that “who is your mentor?” is one of the most common interview questions.

As an interviewee, you may also be expected to discuss how those mentors have helped you achieve your career goals.

Have a deep understanding of mentorship if you want to be the job candidate that stands out. It may help if you rehearse the answers so that you can have a successful job interview.

What Is a Mentor?

A mentor is usually a more experienced person that guides you so that you can develop professionally. While under mentorship, you will be referred to as a mentee. And you will not only benefit from your mentor’s advice, but also his or her resources.

Mentorship tends to be a long-term arrangement. And while you get the professional guidance that you need, your mentor will be able to hone their leadership skills.

Mentors can help you avoid the common pitfalls that people in your industry encounter. They are better positioned to identify these pitfalls since they have more experience.

You will also receive additional motivation. Furthermore, you will benefit from constructive criticism that your mentor offers.

Additionally, you will learn to see your career challenges from a different viewpoint since your mentor will act as your sounding board. Doing so can help you find creative ways of overcoming the obstacles you encounter.

When answering an interview question about your mentor(s) and who they are, you should share with your interviewers about the people that have taught you work-related lessons.

Even if your mentors tend to offer personal life lessons, find ways of framing them in a way that shows they have improved your professional life. Think about the job description when framing your answers.

Example Answers for Different Types of Mentorship

There are different types of mentorships for those who need a professional mentor. What you choose will depend on several things. These include your situation, the availability of mentors, and whether you want to learn alone or with other people.

Below are seven types of mentorships that you can choose from:

  1. Traditional mentorship. Traditional mentorship is one of the most common types of mentorship models. It involves forming a relationship with someone older, more learned, knowledgeable, experienced, and successful than you are.

    This kind of mentorship is ideal if you need to learn from someone that has more expertise than do. It is quite popular for people that are looking for a career development mentor.

    And it usually comes with personalized attention that is given frequently. For this reason, traditional mentors may also be referred to as one-to-one mentors.

    So, when interviewing for a job, you may want to discuss those experienced professionals that have had a big impact on your career.

    Example Answer:

    “My mentor is my former retired boss. He took me under his wing and taught me everything I know about managing a business.

    “I learned how to build a business and create a valuable brand from scratch from him. He also taught me the value of building authority in my chosen niche so that I can be the most trustworthy source of information for my audience.”

  2. Peer mentorship. Peer mentorship is a mentorship model that involves one person learning from a mentor who usually occupies a similar career position with the mentee.

    Also, both parties tend to be around the same age. But the mentor usually has a higher level of expertise and more professional experience in what you need to learn. They will act as a role model and help you solve problems until you can stand on your own two feet.

    One of your colleagues can be your peer mentors. Because you share some similarities, you will find it much easier to identify with them.

    After all, your work lives revolve around the same challenges and experiences. And you can slowly learn from them and acquire the skills that they possess.

    If you have benefited from peer mentorship, you can share that during the interview.

    Example Answer:

    “Sally Smith used to be my peer mentor. When I joined my previous employer immediately after graduation, she trained me on how to run a doctor’s office

    “Under her mentorship, I learned how to manage patient databases, organize meetings, and manage support staff. By the time she left for further studies abroad, I was a proficient office manager.”

  3. Reverse mentorship. Reverse mentorship is traditional mentorship done upside down. Instead of learning from someone that is older and has more work experience than you do, you will learn from younger and less experienced people.

    A reverse mentor may not have the same level of expertise you do, but they still bring a new perspective to the workplace. They are likely to be more in touch with what’s going on within the lower levels of the organization.

    Through them, you will learn what the reality on the ground is and what needs to change.

    Reverse mentorship is great if you feel that you have become an accomplished manager that is out of touch with what matters in the workplace.

    During an interview, you can sell yourself as a senior manager that is willing to learn from your subordinates by discussing a reverse mentor that you have had in the past.

    Example Answer:

    “In my previous work as a hospital administrator, we hired a young IT expert that was also an excellent hacker. After she helped our hospital survive a hacking attempt, I asked her to mentor me on cybersecurity matters.

    “The lessons that I learned from her enabled me to fight for our health information systems to be more secure. I made it my goal to allocate a decent budget for cybersecurity each year.

    “As a result, identity theft cases affecting employees reduced by 25%. And our systems were able to survive two major data breaches that negatively impacted many other hospitals around the state.”

  4. Identity mentorship. An identity mentor shares a similar identity to yours and has overcome the challenges that you are facing. They are typically used in situations where one group (ethnic, racial, gender, etc.) is underrepresented in the workplace or industry.

    Because of the similarities of your situations, you will find their unique perspective on your career to be extremely helpful.

    However, be careful when discussing an identity mentor with your interviewers. Because a job-search should be about what you can do rather than what your identity is. You want people to hire you based on merit and not because of identity politics.

    Try to frame your answer concerning your identity mentor so that it reflects positively on you. Below, is an example of what you could say to impress your interviewers.

    Example Answer:

    “I used to work at a restaurant. I started as a cleaner and worked my way up to a management position by the time I graduated from college. The owner, Mr. Diego has been one of my professional mentors since I was in high school. I am a second-generation immigrant.

    “Whenever I would whine about how difficult my life was or how hard I had to work to earn the stuff my classmates would take for granted, Mr. Diego would sit me down and tell me a bit of himself and his journey to the U.S. from Mexico.

    “Over time, he shared with me his journey to becoming a legal immigrant and small business owner. And every story would offer some nuggets of wisdom.

    “It is Mr. Diego who taught me the value of hard work, honesty, doing the right thing, and self-drive. I learned to appreciate life more and complain less by listening to him. And it is these qualities that I hope to bring to the workplace if you hire me.”

  5. Situational mentorship. A situational mentor offers professional guidance usually for a short period for a specific purpose.

    If you are dealing with a challenge or opportunity that has a major impact on you or the organization, you can find a situational mentor to help you go through it. The help offered by a situational mentor is also meant to help you solve the problem fast.

    The age of the expert is irrelevant. The expertise and efficiency they have are what matters. It’s their skills and efficiency that will make the most difference.

    If someone offers you the help you need to find real-world solutions to your challenges and problems, then you may also refer to them as practical mentors.

    And if his or her job is to help you to relieve stress while resolving your problems, you can also refer to them as coping mentors.

    Example Answer:

    “In the last year of my creative writing degree, I was lucky to be taken under the wing of an old friend that had just graduated successfully. He knew that I was struggling and had trouble finding inspiration. I was in danger of failing my final exams.

    “He taught me how to find inspiration in unconventional places. And now I find it much easier to overcome writer’s block regardless of where I am. These skills have enabled me to achieve a measure of success as a content creator for my previous employer.”

  6. Distance mentorship. A distance mentor offers you the guidance you need to develop yourself professionally from a distance.

    That means he or she is likely to be outside the institution in which you work. And sometimes, they may even be out of the state or country in which you live and work.

    Distance mentors can provide personalized expertise and help via the available technological platforms. These may include social media and communication platforms such as Skype. For this reason, they are sometimes known as virtual mentors.

    Distance mentorship is a good option if there are no experts available in your area. It can be implemented successfully if you and your mentor maintain a support structure that enhances communication.

  7. Group mentorship. A group mentor offers professional guidance and expertise to more than one person at the same time.

    You may not have ever had one-to-one interactions with a mentor. But when preparing for interviews, try to remember a time when you received professional guidance as part of a team. If it happened even once, then you can answer a job interview question on your mentorship experience.

    For example, you could talk about your sports coach in high school or college. You can discuss the lessons on working hard and being a team player. Then explain how those lessons are now skills that you apply to your career.

Final Thoughts

If you have ever learned by listening to others and doing what they advised you to do, you can successfully answer the question, “who is your mentor?” Just find a way to relate your life lessons to the job you are applying for and that dream job may be yours.

And if you have never been mentored, honestly say so and express that you look forward to getting professional mentors in the future.

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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