I Am a Choosy Mentor: 9 Key Selection Criteria

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Putting up a sign saying you are available to be a mentor has its advantages: you meet interesting people, hear great ideas, feel rejuvenated and keep the virtuous cycle going. (Related post:Why I Choose to Give Up Golf and Mentor Instead.)

However, there are times when the number of requests exceed the time and energy that I have or are willing to put into it.

How do I go about narrowing down the choice of people that I want to mentor or be associated with? Often they are people whom I have not known before.

On reflection, here are 9 key criteria that I have been using for my selection, even though I did not have it firmly articulated till now:

A Maker

People who have demonstrated, in big things and small, that they are capable of making things happen are exciting folks. They are capable of creating resources and opportunities out of thin air.

If the person is an “excuse master” it is time for me to make my own excuses. On the other hand, even if they have not done exactly what is needed in this particular instance but have demonstrated the skill of making it happen, I keep exploring.

Opportunity Hound

If people have ideas that they see as evolving into Opportunities, my ears perk up. A constant flow of ideas will be needed as the project proceeds. The skill to generate many types of ideas will pull one out of many messy situations.(Related Post: Help: How Do I Get Out of This Mess?)

However, this can be a double edged sword. The good part is that the person is not willing to sit back and wait for opportunities to come to them. They are looking for them. The bad part is that the person may be constantly jumping from one idea to another, without digging in whether the idea is truly an opportunity or not. In some cases, if I bring a “testing” probe to the idea (s)he jumps saying, “ Lets leave that, here is another idea.”. At that point, I tend to jump off too.

Process Oriented

Opportunities do not come fully dressed up. Yes, someone has to recognize the potential before the Opportunity is revealed. But, at the same time this entails a rigorous process. I am willing to go through the arduous process of uncovering an opportunity with the person if they are.

If the person responds in words or non-verbals,“All this sounds like the same old bureaucratic bull shit ! Who has time for checklists and tools and process?” I may not have time for them. (Related post: 9 Questions to Answer before Launching Your Boat.)


Building a new venture is not a solo exercise. It is essential to influence a myriad of people; team members, customers, investors, etc. Has the potential mentee collected a few people to join hir in the quest?

The leadership position comes not from your rank or ability to offer a job, but by the vision. “Are you a person of destiny and can you persuade others to join you in that journey?” If you cannot paint that picture for me, I am not influenced.


As a mentor, I am not an adviser and my reward is always non-monetary. Yes, I may be rewarded with a piece of the success but that too is optional. The income I get is psychic. I learn new things, new arenas. (Related post: 3 Benefits I Have Enjoyed in Mentoring Young Entrepreneurs).

Is it going to be a journey of give and take? Many a mentee has made it more exciting and interesting to my own life. If the potential person is someone that I do not feel can take us both to a higher plane then we are not likely to go far.

Comfort with Strong People Around

A company with one leader who makes all the decisions and the minions who follow orders is not going to scale. It is very likely to suffer from a number of hurdles that may pop up from any side.

The more number of strong leaders in the company the more it is inoculated from any one type of plight.

Is this person comfortable with other strong leaders in the team? And willing to give them the resources and latitude to do what is best? If not, is it worthwhile?


Chicken Littles of the world are painful fellow travelers. They wear you down. Optimists recognize that the glass is half full but they look at what we have and then consider how to fill the rest. Their optimism is like a ray of sunshine in a gray day. Perks me up!

Follow Through

Promises made are promises kept. I intend to keep mine and expect the mentee to do the same. Does this person seem reliable enough to keep their word?


Loyalty is the glue that will keep us together through thick and thin. Mistrust can add a load to the relationship which cannot afford that burden. Do I feel that comfort level with this person?

Obviously, I have to make an assessment with incomplete information. But, entrepreneurship is all about making decisions based upon paucity of facts. Once the person has passed through the gates mentioned above, and passed my smell test, I am willing to give my total loyalty to them and to their cause.

I had myself studied at the feet of a master- and learnt that these factors are the most important in an ongoing mentoring relationship.

I pass these on to propel my goal: to continue the long established virtuous cycle where good Mentors create the next generation of Mentors.

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Dr. Rajiv Tandon is an Entrepreneur, Educator and Mentor. He facilitates peer groups for CEOs of fast-growing companies in Minnesota. To learn more, sign up to get the email newsletter.

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