The mentor and mentee guide

Read this guide to understand your responsibilities when you join the GCS mentoring programme.

On this page:

The mentoring partnership


Each mentoring pair will decide how they want their partnership to work and will detail these in a Learning Contract.

Download the Learning Contract (Word, 36 KB, 2 pages)

It is expected that mentees will:

  • take responsibility for managing their own development
  • set clear, realistic objectives and initiate learning and career development activities
  • be responsible for scheduling meetings and rescheduling them if needed 
  • be open to feedback from mentor and receptive to new ideas
  • show consideration for their mentor’s time
  • adhere to confidentiality of mentoring partnership
  • maintain the commitment to the mentoring partnership – the frequency, structure and length of the partnership will be discussed and agreed with the mentor, but it’s typically 1-2 hours per month for a period of 6 months, with learning and development activities between meetings
  • advise the GCS Team of any breakdown in the mentoring relationship

Schemes like the GCS Mentoring Programme are only successful when GCS members help support and deliver them. With this in mind, we would encourage and expect anyone at the HEO grade and above who would like a mentor to also become a mentor. Just as you would like guidance as you progress in your career, you can offer a fellow GCS member the benefit of your knowledge and experience.

It is expected that mentors will:

  • motivate and encourage mentee to take responsibility for learning and career development activities
  • help identify learning and networking opportunities
  • provide constructive feedback and act as a sounding board for ideas
  • challenge mentee to take a broad perspective
  • use listening skills and a facilitative approach to increase mentee’s awareness of strengths and weaknesses
  • adhere to confidentiality of mentoring partnership
  • maintain commitment to the mentoring partnership –  the frequency, structure and length of the partnership will be discussed and agreed with the mentee, but it’s typically 1-2 hours per month for a period of 6 months, with learning and development activities between meetings
  • advise the GCS Team of any breakdown in the mentoring relationship

The mentoring programme in practice

Matching mentoring pairs

Mentoring pairs are matched based on the information in the mentor and mentee application forms. Matching is a qualitative process which considers the learning and development objectives of the mentee alongside the skills and expertise of the mentor. Mentee learning objectives can range from up-skilling in a specific area to broader career development support.  In fact, mentees may be likely to request support to develop specific skills and their career. The GCS Team will do their best to make meaningful matches, however they can’t guarantee that it will always be possible to meet every specific request. 

The GCS Team will aim to match you within the next two months following your application. At times it might take longer: this is because we simply didn’t have the right person, with the right skills, in the right place and experience to match a mentor with. Mentees who haven’t been matched in the first two months will be prioritised for the following matches.

The first meeting

Once pairs are matched, GCS will notify the mentor and the mentee of the matching, giving the mentee the mentor’s contact details. The mentee is responsible for making initial contact and introducing themselves. Since receiving the email notifying the matching, the mentee will have three weeks to contact the mentor.  If they fail to do so, the GCS Team will match the mentor with another mentee.

 The mentee will also take responsibility from this point for arranging meetings and setting agendas.

Ideally, the first meeting should cover:

  • introductions and mentor/mentee background 
  • expectations of the mentoring partnership, and role and responsibilities of each
  • what the mentee and mentor hope to get out of the partnership
  • mentee’s learning objectives
  • frequency, structure, length and logistics of the meetings
  • action points and agenda for the next meeting

In preparation for the first meeting, it may be helpful to think about and note down your thoughts on the following:

  • What are your expectations of mentoring? What outcomes are you aiming for?
  • How do you see your role and responsibilities?
  • How often would you like to meet? And for how long?
  • Where/how will meetings take place?
  • Are you happy to have direct contact with each other between meetings?
  • What limits will you put in place in terms of confidentiality?
  • Are there any areas / topics that are outside the scope of your mentoring partnership?
  • How and how often will you review how things are going?
  • What will you do if you think the partnership isn’t working out?
  • What will success look like at the end of the mentoring partnership?

Establishing ground rules and setting boundaries


Confidentiality is an important element of the mentoring relationship and is central to a successful partnership. On this, GCS provides the following guidance:

Anything said during the course of a mentoring meeting is confidential to the parties involved and should not be repeated without the express consent of those individuals.

The mentoring discussions will remain confidential to the mentoring partnership both during and after the formal mentoring relationship has finished. The mentor has no direct contact with the mentee’s line manager.

In exceptional circumstances where the mentor has concerns (for example involving a Civil Service Code or health and safety issues), the mentor will advise the mentee of the need for disclosure and should contact GCS for guidance.

Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination (BHD) and Diversity and Inclusion (D&I)

The Civil Service has a longstanding commitment to ensuring positive, supportive working environments in all of our teams, departments and businesses.

One key element of this is our commitment to tackling bullying, harassment and discrimination in the workplace. This again has been a longstanding priority, reaffirmed by the commitment in our Diversity and Inclusion Action plan to ‘take stronger action to address incidents of discrimination, bullying and harassment’ and ‘take action to root out negative behaviours that do not align with our Civil Service values’.

Both the mentor and the mentee have a responsibility to read and understand the BHD guidance for their department and follow its procedures. They have a responsibility to read the GCS Diversity and Inclusion in practice action plan 2020-2021.

If you need further guidance on the topic, we encourage you to look to read the Civil Service Review of Arrangements for Tackling Bullying, Harassment and Misconduct in the Civil Service, the Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, and look for support resources on your department intranet. 

When discussing the additional ground rules and boundaries of your mentoring partnership, you might want to consider the following:

  • be inclusive: inclusion is the responsibility of everyone in the workplace and many disabilities are invisible.
  • when you start your conversation, ask each other “What can I do to make our meeting comfortable for you?”
  • depending on their needs, some colleagues might like video with subtitles, some might prefer a phone call, some might prefer an email with text in a certain size. 

How will the mentee use the mentor’s authority and contacts? For example they will only contact members of the mentor’s network with their prior consent

  • accessibility and the allocation of time to mentoring. How will you keep in touch between meetings and how much time will you allocate to mentoring?
  • some mentors will have time for calls or emails between sessions, others may not

Issues that are off-limits to the mentoring relationship for example you may agree to focus solely on work-related issues.

Mentoring pairs should discuss and reach agreement on ground rules or boundaries, and detail these in their Learning Contract.

Defining learning objectives and the development plan

Initial mentoring meetings are likely to focus on clarifying the mentee’s learning objectives and putting together a development plan. 

Mentors play an important role here in helping mentees clarify their thinking about what it is they want to achieve and how they will get there. The mentee and mentor will work together to clearly define the learning objectives and ensure these are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timebound).

The Learning Contract

The Learning Contract is a record of the agreement reached between the mentor and mentee on ways of working and learning objectives. We advise you to agree and complete the Learning Contract (Word, 36 KB, 2 pages) as it records the commitment of each party to the mentoring partnership and provides a solid foundation for the relationship going forwards.

Mentoring meetings

A good mentoring meeting should:

  • have a clear agenda
  • review actions from last meeting and assess progress
  • be related to agreed learning objectives
  • focus on exploring the mentee’s issues
  • identify clear actions and next steps, including any learning activities the mentee will undertake between sessions
  • agree a date for the next meeting

Keeping the mentoring partnership on track

Try to build in time at specific points during your mentoring partnership to reflect on how things are going and what progress is being made towards achieving overall learning objectives.

Taking stock of what has or hasn’t worked along the way will help keep the relationship on track and ensure you get the most out of the mentoring experience. It will also help identify any issues which, if left unchecked, could cause the mentoring partnership to break down.

If you feel that the mentoring partnership isn’t progressing as you’d hoped, consider scheduling some time to raise this with your mentee/mentor, ensuring you have a clear agenda for discussing the situation. Revisiting the Learning Contract to review the ground rules and objectives initially set can be a useful exercise for helping you see where you may have veered off track.

Closing the partnership

The mentoring partnership should last for the amount of time that the mentor and mentee have agreed during the first meeting, with an option to continue if the mentoring relationship is proving productive and successful. Occasionally, mentoring partnerships may need to close early due to unforeseen circumstances (for example change of role) or simply because the relationship is not achieving the aims of either party. Where this is the case, close down the partnership without fault or blame attached to either party and please inform GCS. If you would like further advice or support with closing this partnership, please contact a member of the GCS Team.

At the end of the mentoring partnership, we will ask mentors for feedback on the process, not on the content of the discussion. This feedback is really valuable as it shows us what is working well and where changes could be made to improve this element of our talent management and development.

  • The Coaching and Mentoring Network is a free and independent portal for news, information and developments in the coaching and mentoring field. The site’s Information Portal provides detail on definitions / different types of mentoring, as well as recent articles and reports on mentoring and coaching.
  • The European Mentoring and Coaching Council exists to promote good practice in mentoring and coaching across Europe. The information and resources available via this site are aimed primarily at professional mentors, coaches and supervisors, so whilst not directly relevant for those taking part in the GCS scheme it may be useful for those with a wider interest in mentoring.