Mentor or Coach: That is the Question

December 11, 2013 Katharina Lochner

candidate experience

What You Want to Learn Impacts Whether You Need a Mentor or Coach

Some of our readers might already have worked with a mentor or coach. Others might be thinking about working with one. The question is: mentor or coach?

On the website HR Pulse, there is some practical advice on this question. Leadership expert Keith Coats says it depends on what you want to learn. If it is a practical skill or specific behaviour, then it will make sense to hire a coach. On the other hand, if you are looking for someone who will provide you with a perspective, a mentor is the appropriate person to look for. He also points out that in the end, we need both. Finally, his key message is that we should never stop learning, even when we are senior leaders.

Coaching, by the way, can have surprising effects. Recently there was a study published by Filip Lievens from Ghent University and his colleagues that investigated the impact of coaching on a situational judgment test (SJT). These tests confronts the test taker with a realistic scenario, e.g. a salesperson with an angry customer, and the task is to find the appropriate response in the given situation. These tests are becoming increasingly popular in personnel selection and are used rather frequently. For example, a Belgian medical school uses one in their admission process. And this is where Filip Lievens and his colleagues conducted their experiment. They compared two groups of candidates who had previously failed in the admission test. One group received coaching, whereas the other did not. It turned out that those who had received coaching improved quite a bit compared to the uncoached group – about half a standard deviation in their scores! This of course raises the question what the coaching really improved – the underlying ability or just the ability to deal with the test. But that is a question that needs to be answered in another study.

The original study was published in the International Journal of Selection and Assessmentand there is an outline of it on the BPS Occupational Digest Blog.

This is just one example. But to sum this up: coaching and mentoring is very likely something that all of us can profit from, no matter what stage in our career we are at. And maybe the answer to the question in the headline is: both coaching AND mentoring. And maybe a coach or mentor is not necessary someone we hire and pay. Maybe it is someone we just choose to learn from – colleagues, leaders, maybe even kids…

About the Author

Katharina Lochner

Dr Katharina Lochner is the former research director for the cut-e Group which was acquired by Aon in 2017. Katharina is now a researcher and lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences Europe in Iserlohn, Germany. In her role at cut-e, she applied the research in organizational and work psychology to real-world assessment practice. She has a strong expertise in the construction and evaluation of online psychometric tools.

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