Skip to main content

Skills to Become a Successful Mentor

Over our three years of engaging with hundreds of developers and mentors at Project Thrive, we’ve been able distill key skills needed for success. There are some skills that both individuals need to cultivate, and some individual skills will help you be a great mentor.

Shared skills for a great mentoring relationship 🤝

Both partners in a mentoring relationship need to demonstrate certain key skills in order have a successful mentoring relationship. This shared core skill set includes:

  1. Active listening
  2. Ability to build trust
  3. Encouraging others

1. Active listening

As a mentor, your ability to actively listen to your mentee will help you accurately determine the guidance and input your mentee needs. Active listening will also enable you to get to know your mentee better, which will help you understand how they think about problems and opportunities.

So, what is active listening about? Here are some tips:

  • Make sure you don’t interrupt
  • Pay attention to body language and other non-verbal signals
  • Don’t assume knowledge or intent
  • Reserve judgement and make sure you’re not imposing your own ideas and fixes onto the other person

You can also work on a few behaviours that help to show the other person that you’re paying attention to them. That includes maintaining eye contact, and other physical signs of engagement like nodding your head or smiling.


A good practice for active listening is to summarise the crux of what’s been said in the conversation and jot down a few notes to follow up on.

If your mentee is working on an exciting new project using a new programming language, check in on how they're progressing. Apart from the possibility of learning new things from their experience, this is a good opportunity to build your relationship and show that you are actively listening.

2. Building trust

A mentoring partnership requires commitment and mutual trust. The stronger this foundation is, the more you’ll get out of your relationship.

These are our top tips for building trust in a mentorship relationship:

  • Be accountable: If you make a mistake, that’s ok. But you need to be honest about it and work to resolve it. If you make a promise, see it through.
  • Keep confidences: Where confidences are respected, trust can follow. Mentorship can take us to a place of vulnerability and both parties need to feel safe enough to share their struggles openly.
  • Respect boundaries: You need to establish expectations and clear boundaries in a mentorship pair, and respecting these is key to success.

3. Encouraging one another

Mentors and mentees need to support each other. That’s part of what makes mentorship so powerful. Mentors can build their mentees confidence by encouraging them and celebrating with them when things go well. And even when things don't go so well, the mentoring relationship can be a safe space to reflect and learn about why things may have happened that way.

Skills for mentors

Mentors bring years of experience and skills to the mentorship. However, there are some particular soft skills that mentors should develop if they want to improve their mentoring relationship. These skills include:

  1. Guiding through coaching
  2. Challenging your mentee
  3. Providing constructive feedback
  4. Helping your mentee manage risks
  5. Opening doors for your mentee

1. Guide through coaching

Although the hierarchical manager-underling type of dynamic should be avoided in a mentoring relationship, the role of the mentor is to help the mentee upskill.

While more experienced developers may believe that resources for upskilling are just a Google away, for a less experienced junior, the trick is actually in finding the right resources. As a mentor, you could consolidate some high quality, reputable resources to share with your mentee.

Where you have experience in a particular area, you can pass that knowledge on to your mentee. Or if you've been working on improving a specific skill, like communicating more clearly at work, you can share your own upskilling journey and any difficulties you've encountered with your mentee.

A mentoring relationship is also a great environment in which to help your mentee build problem-solving skills. One way to help them do this is to ask them questions about how they might have managed a situation that you've previously encountered.

Because you've been in the industry for longer, you likely have some insight into software development career paths and how your mentee can progress through them. Sharing this insight with your mentee will help them align their upskilling goals with their overall career goals.

2. Challenge your mentee

One important task of a mentor is to push them beyond their comfort zone.

Hold your mentee to high standards. This might mean encouraging them to set more ambitious (yet still achievable) goals, or perhaps assigning tasks to them that will enable them develop new skills. As a mentor, you'll also need to help your mentee stretch their thinking by pointing out any assumptions they're holding onto.

3. Provide constructive feedback

In a mentoring relationship, providing constructive feedback is as important as providing encouragement. If you identify a situation that you feel your mentee could have handled better, providing feedback to them can really aid the learning process.

4. Help your mentee manage risks

All new ventures are accompanied by a certain amount of risk. Your mentee will need guidance as they consider which risks are manageable, and which risks cannot be surmounted.

There are additional tools that can be used when planning a new venture that’ll help you and your mentee determine what the risks are and whether they're surmountable or not. For instance, at Project Thrive, we encouraged mentees to work through the SWOT analysis to help them identify any threats upfront.

5. Open doors for your mentee

As a mentor, you should act as a champion for your mentee.

Keep an eye out for any opportunities or events that your mentee might benefit from. Consider who you might be able to introduce them to that could assist them on their learning journey. If you're currently working on an exciting project, you could also invite your mentee to join any meetings or working sessions that you set up for the project.

Of course, any recommendations by you reflect back on you, so you’ll first want to make sure that your mentee is equipped to manage any opportunities that come through you. Make sure you’re transparent about this and be sure to use your judgement.