Mentorship Fit

Part of being a senior engineer involves mentoring less experienced colleagues. At work, we were trying to figure out how to detect someone’s interest/competency in mentoring others. This first step involves defining what it means to be a mentor and then thinking about how to extract whether or not a candidate has those qualities.

This post includes my thoughts on the topic; likely helpful to orgs hiring for roles that involve mentorship, junior devs seeking mentorship, and experienced devs who are unsure how to be effective mentors. The thoughts stem from my programming and teaching careers. Feel free to disagree.

What is a mentor?

A mentor, to me, is someone who genuinely cares about the development and success of their mentees. This is detached from HR concerns, so it’s not as formal as a “manager,” but ideally there is overlap. A mentor is a buddy with more experience that wants to get you to the next level(s) in your development.

Here are some qualities that make for a strong mentor:

  • Ability to identify and suggest improvements addressing the weaknesses (i.e., areas for growth) of teammates.
  • Ability to pay careful attention to the behavioral insecurities of others and is aware of their speech and tone as to not decrease the self-trust of the mentee.
  • Ability to effectively increase the knowledge and passion of the mentee through lessons learned, suggested readings, or exposing the mentee to various philosophies within the field.
  • Provokes thought and encourages self-direction and exploration without always offering solutions.
  • Praises the work of mentee and encourages behavior that adheres to the organization’s standards and best practices.
  • Checks in with mentee every so often to see how they’re progressing and help them address their concerns.
  • Can balance instruction with guidance.

How do you interview for mentorship competency?

Ask the candidate about their thoughts on mentorship or their most enjoyable experience ushering folks along. Look for a smile and a twinkle in their eye. Listen for the passion in their voice.

Mentorship is a craft and not too dissimilar from programming. I find that the same types of philosophical assessment questions apply. More concretely though, here are a few questions to help get closer to the moment of the twinkle.

  • Do you enjoy mentoring? If so why?
  • What’s your method/approach to mentoring less experienced teammates?
  • Similarly, what qualities do you feel are important for a mentor to possess?
  • How do you improve at mentoring?
  • Read any good books/articles on the subject?

You want someone to be aware of what and how they’re doing. If they can’t improve themselves, it’ll be hard to improve others.