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Who is your ideal mentor? An exploratory study of mentor prototypes

Sarah Frances Bailey (Department of Psychology, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois, United States.)
Elora C Voyles (Department of Psychology, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois, United States.)
Lisa Finkelstein (Department of Psychology, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois, United States.)
Kristina Matarazzo (Exelon, Chicago, Illinois, United States.)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 9 May 2016

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Abstract

Purpose

One of the main aspects of a mentoring relationship involves the expectations that mentees have of an ideal mentor. However, the traits that mentees envision in an ideal mentor are unclear. The purpose of this paper is to present series of studies examined mentees’ ideas about their ideal mentor’s physical characteristics and mentoring functions. The authors also examined gender and racial (white/nonwhite) differences in ideal mentor preferences.

Design/methodology/approach

The two studies examined what mentees envision when they picture their ideal mentor, and whether the ideal mentor prototypes varied by participants’ ethnicity and gender. Study 2 further examined mentees’ ideal mentor characteristics in a forced choice ranking scale and the ideal mentor scale (Rose, 2003).

Findings

When asked to describe their ideal mentor’s appearance, participants provided detailed descriptions of the ideal mentor’s features. They also emphasized mentoring characteristics and behaviors, such as guidance. Participants’ preferences for their ideal mentor’s gender and race varied by the question format (open-ended description vs scale).When asked to envision their ideal mentor (Study 2), participants emphasized guidance, interpersonal warmth, and ethical integrity. Other mentoring characteristics and behaviors emerged in the content coding framework. Prototypes of the ideal mentors varied based on ethnicity and gender, but also on how the question was presented.

Originality/value

These findings suggest that the ideal mentor prototype involves guidance, understanding, and role modeling ethical values. Like other organizational roles (i.e. leaders), awareness of these traits informs how employees view mentors and what they expect from mentoring relationships. Facilitators of mentoring programs can consider the ideal mentor prototype during the matching process and the initial stages of the mentoring relationship.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Jeffrey Eychaner, Edan Hernandez, Irene Kostiwa, Jasmin Martinez, Snovea Norris, Sarah Tirado, and Andrea Zimmerman for their assistance with data collection and analysis.

Citation

Bailey, S.F., Voyles, E.C., Finkelstein, L. and Matarazzo, K. (2016), "Who is your ideal mentor? An exploratory study of mentor prototypes", Career Development International, Vol. 21 No. 2, pp. 160-175. https://doi.org/10.1108/CDI-08-2014-0116

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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