Coach vs. Mentor (With Tips on Selecting the Best Fit)

Updated September 30, 2022

The duties and responsibilities of coaches and mentors make it easy to use both terms interchangeably and mix up their duties. At various stages of your career, you can require the services of either a mentor or a coach. Understanding the difference between coaches and mentors can make it easier to identify which professional you require at a particular time.

In this article, we discuss the differences between a coach vs. mentor, examine their similarities, outline when to use a coach, explore when to use a mentor, and provide tips to help you maximize such a relationship regardless of your career.

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Coach vs. mentor

Understanding the relationship between coach vs. mentor involves identifying the differences between both roles, their duties, and the effects of their tutelage:


A coach is responsible for organizing, planning, and delivering the required range of activities for teams or individuals. Coaches work with people in creative and thought-provoking processes that motivate them to maximize their potential professionally or personally. A mentor typically functions as a trusted and experienced advisor. They support, advise, and guide a less experienced person by earning their trust and serving as a positive behaviour role model. A good mentor aligns with the mentee's wishes and understands that their primary duty involves being engaging, authentic, and dependable.

Read more: What Is a Mentor? (With Benefits and Useful Tips)


The relationship between a mentor and a mentee is typically long-term, lasting up to a year, two years, or longer depending on the desired outcome. In contrast, coaching relationships are short-term, usually six months or one year, and intended to achieve definite goals. Coaching relationships may last longer, depending on the objectives in exceptional situations.

Aims and objectives

The coaching relationship is usually performance-driven, with a focus on improving the professional on-the-job performance of an individual. In contrast, a mentor focuses on enhancing the development prospects of their mentee. In addition, the mentoring relationship creates a holistic development of a person's career, looking beyond the current job to other endeavours. A coach focuses on creating the perfect fit for the current role.


The organization and consultation requirements in a mentoring relationship are more informal, with periodic meetings based on the mentees' desires. In contrast, a coaching relationship has a clearly defined structure with regularly scheduled sessions, either weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. As a result, it's easier for coaches to track their subordinate's progress while a mentor only knows what the mentee deems necessary to inform them.


Companies and individuals select coaches for their expertise in particular areas to develop the deficiency of the coachees in these areas. For example, people hire coaches to improve sales, presentation, interpersonal, and leadership skills. Individuals select mentors for their seniority and experience in a particular field. Mentees usually model their careers after the mentor, gain inspiration, and learn from their experiences. Coaching is a skill that a person can acquire, while mentoring relies mostly on experiences.


Both the coaches and their students create the training program and activities schedule, intending to highlight the deficient areas of the mentees. Conversely, in a mentoring relationship, the mentee makes the schedule entirely. Generally, a coach is usually more involved in the development of the subordinate while the mentor supports whatever plan the mentees create.


A coach typically asks thought-provoking questions that help students make crucial decisions, adopt behavioural changes, and implement conscious choices. In a mentoring relationship, the mentee looks to benefit from the mentor's experience. The mentees tend to ask how best to use those experiences to influence their current position.

Related: 11 Questions to Ask a Mentor


The results are specific and measurable in a coaching relationship, showing performance improvement in the desired areas. In comparison, the results in a mentoring relationship are more fluid and change over time. The mentoring relationship, unlike coaching, doesn't focus on measurable outcomes, but seeks to influence overall career development.

Related: How to Build a Successful Mentor Relationship in Five Steps

Similarities between a coach and a mentor

Here are some similarities between a coach and a mentor:

  • Result: Although they strive to achieve different goals, both coaches and mentors are result-oriented. Both roles endeavour to help others find the best solutions through open, honest teaching, and nurturing, and asking the right questions to promote self-awareness and better decision-making in others.

  • Developmental tools: Both coaching and mentoring are helpful progressive tools for companies and play critical roles in the early stages of career and business development. They share similar processes of active listening, building rapport, and developing supportive relationships with others.

  • The benefit to the company: Coaching and mentoring offer substantial advantages both directly and indirectly by developing abilities and potential for growth in experience and knowledge. They can help across areas such as improving productivity, recruitment, leadership development, staff retention, and succession planning.

  • Structure: Both coaching and mentoring have similar systems, such as duration, and they involve a series of meetings during the existence of the relationship. Also, depending on the individual or company, they can either be one-on-one or group relationships.

  • Agreement: In some situations, the companies or individuals enforce coaching and mentoring relationships via a signed personal agreement or contract between the parties.

  • Selection: Both coaches and mentors emerge based on their position and industry expertise, skillset, and other valuable qualifications. They're often leaders who can enhance others' careers.

When to use a coach

Here are some instances where a coach may be the best fit for you:

  • Developing talent: A coach may be the best option to develop an individual's natural talent for a specific skill.

  • Honing new skills: You may consider working with a coach if, as an experienced professional, you intend to enhance some skills and add new skills to your skillset.

  • Meeting goals: If you have issues with achieving goals or meeting expectations in the workplace, you may consider working with a coach to help you.

  • Managing changes: If, as a leader in your workplace, you face a significant transition, such as a merger or acquisition, a coach may help you navigate the managing of integrated teams and adapting the different company cultures.

  • Improving behaviour: A coach is the best fit for a person to improve their behaviour quickly. For instance, coaching a company executive to address the media on a particular topic.

  • Preparing for professional advancement: If you intend to gain a management role in a company, a coaching relationship may be the best training to prepare you for such roles.

  • Training program substitute: Adopting the coaching relationship can substitute for people who prefer one-on-one relationships to public or group training programs.

Related: Should You Hire a Career Coach? When to Hire an Employment Counsellor

When to use a mentor

Here are some situations where it may be ideal to adopt a mentor relationship:

  • Career and life development: If you intend to focus and find the right work-life balance, it's advisable to consider the mentorship relationship. Also, a mentor has a better perspective to help you realize how much is possible in your chosen career.

  • Leadership development: Having a mentor who is or has been in different leadership positions can help you enhance your prospects by emulating the requisite leadership skills.

  • Knowledge transfer: A mentorship relationship is the best opportunity to share knowledge among colleagues.

  • Succession: Some mentors choose their mentees, intending to groom them as their successors in the event of promotion, retirement, or death. A mentoring relationship is a great option to ensure that a person is appropriately groomed to be your replacement.

Related: How to Find a Mentor Step by Step

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Tips for benefitting from your coach or mentor

Here are some tips to help you create a professional relationship and get the best of a coaching or mentorship relationship:

  • Decide what assistance you require: Consider your objectives and goals when selecting a mentor or a coach. Identifying what you want at that stage of your career is crucial in determining what relationship may benefit you the most.

  • Respect and trust your mentor or coach: It's vital that you trust the decisions and opinions of your mentor or coach. This is because, while the objectives of the relationship may benefit you, achieving your goals depends largely on mutual trust and respect.

  • Set clear boundaries: Maintaining high professionalism in your relationship is crucial. As a result, it's advisable to set ground rules to properly define your meeting time, the preferred method of communication, the duration of your relationship, the importance of confidentiality, and other necessary guidelines.

  • Ensure you keep an open mind: Despite having your goals, it's essential you keep an open mind to learn as much as possible from your mentor or coach. Ensure you aren't judgemental or prone to reaching hasty conclusions to ensure a productive learning process.

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