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The Difference Between Mentoring and Coaching

Coaching and mentoring are two sides of the same coin. Both are focused on providing individuals with opportunities to develop, either personally or professionally, and helping them meet their goals. Central to both is a relationship between two people founded on trust and the sharing of knowledge and skills. For this reason, it’s not uncommon for coaching and mentoring to be discussed synonymously. But there are key differences between the two in their approaches, criteria, and in the dynamic between participants.

What is Mentoring?

Mentorship is an approach to people development where an experienced person is paired with someone looking to level up in their career. Within tech, this might be a junior programmer looking to enter mobile development. Alternatively, they might ask to be connected with a team lead to learn from their experience in project management, tech leadership and communication. A mentor usually volunteers their time alongside their full-time role and may mentor within their company, or for a third-party group like Project Thrive.

There are many other benefits to becoming a mentor. Mentoring helps participants increase their self-confidence, build leadership capabilities, refine interpersonal skills, acquire new approaches to problem-solving, and focus on specialised technical skills. Juniors benefit from getting a mentor as well by receiving guidance from an industry expert to help them identify and work towards their goals!

Given how competitive the tech industry has become, with organisations vying for the same senior talent and juniors needing an additional boost to get their foot in the door, it’s common for leading tech companies to have internal mentorship programmes to support career growth.

Fundamentally, mentorship is about the relationship between the mentor and the mentee. Mentors listen and learn about their mentee’s context, challenges, and goals. They share relevant experiences and pass their skills and insights along. This is the approach we took at Project Thrive, where we connected junior and senior developers for a 12-week mentoring journey. To help our participants succeed, we provided tips and training on how to make the most of the mentoring relationship.

What is Coaching?

Like mentoring, career coaching also involves a relationship between two people and is focused on development goals. While coaching doesn’t have industry standards and oversight, a coach will be specifically trained for this work and will provide their coaching services professionally.

A coaching relationship is more formal and structured where they assess the individual’s progression on specific and measurable outcomes (although a strong mentor will also bring elements of this into their mentoring relationship). While coaching does depend on the dynamic between both people, it’s ultimately a one-sided exchange where one party is providing their services to the other.

While a career coach may specialise in a particular set of skills or subject matter, they can also work to address your attitude around work, your mindset, and your approach to your goals. Ultimately, a career coach is there to help you understand yourself and your working life better, as well as equip you with the skills you need to succeed.

Coaching vs Mentoring: What’s the Difference?

In both coaching and mentoring relationships, someone wants to learn new things or refine their existing approach, challenge their thinking, or figure out how to take the next step in their career. And in both relationships, there needs to be a foundation of openness and trust.

There are differences in training, outcomes, and the approach to work:

  1. Coaching is a profession; mentorship is voluntary.
  2. Coaching is usually short-term; mentorship can last months or even years.
  3. Coaching is typically structured; mentorship is fluid.
  4. Coaching is directed by the coach; mentees drive mentorship forward.
  5. Coaching targets specific skills and outcomes; mentorship is experience and advice based.

Profession versus Voluntary

While a career coach is professionally trained and coaches full time, mentoring is typically done on a voluntary basis. Mentoring can be formal (such as through an internal career programme at work) or informally through personal connections.

It’s also possible to join an external mentoring programme—like Project Thrive—where mentees and mentors are partnered up based on relevant skills, experience, and career goals.

While both mentor and mentee are committed to the development of the mentee, the experience can be fruitful for both. In fact, some research indicates that mentors are as much as six times more likely to be promoted.


Both coaching and mentorship can take the form of short- and long-term interventions. However, it’s common for coaching to take place in shorter bursts, with a specific set of goals and desired outcomes.

Mentorship is often a longer-term engagement. While the Project Thrive programme was set at 12 weeks, mentors and mentees may decide to continue their relationship independently.

Mentorship can span years, with mentees reaching out for guidance over the course of their careers. Project Thrive’s mentors could choose to meet with mentees after the formal programme had ended. Generally, mentees reach out for career development questions, or even for general life advice.

Structure and Scope

Coaches will have different approaches, with some working within a standardised and repeatable framework, and others running sessions more organically. Nonetheless, coaching is typically formal and structured.

Mentorship, on the other hand, is usually more informal, with the mentor drawing from their personal experiences to guide discussions.

The scope of mentor and coach involvement will also differ. While a mentor may help their mentee to network and gain connections and specific work opportunities, a coach’s role wouldn’t extend beyond targeted interventions and coaching sessions.


A coach isn’t going to give you all the answers. They’re there to help you find solutions yourself, but they’ll still lead the process. While it’s up to the individual to apply what they’re learning, it’s the coach’s responsibility to set the agenda for sessions and manage the process (the specifics of how this is done will differ based on their approach).

But mentees are expected to drive the relationship forward in a mentoring relationship. This includes setting meeting agendas, identifying and communicating the areas they’d like to problem solve, and following up on specific goals and development areas. This is central to the success of the mentor–mentee dynamic at Project Thrive.

Advice versus Upskilling

There’s a misconception that mentors will simply tell mentees what they should or should not do. True, mentors will draw from their experiences to provide guidance and direction, but a mentor should listen first and advise last. Effective mentors push their mentees to ask the right questions, problem solve for themselves, and reflect on their progress.

When a mentor provides advice and insights, these will be drawn from personal experience and their understanding of their mentee. That means that learnings will evolve along with the relationship and mentees won’t necessarily know what outcomes to expect upfront.

Coaches, on the other hand, focus on identifying specific development needs, addressing targeted areas for upskilling, and working on challenging limiting beliefs. For example, if you know you need to work on becoming a better negotiator, or have noticed that you’re coming up against the same set of technical or interpersonal challenges in all the roles you take on, this is something you and a coach could work on together. In this process, the coach will work within a framework, agenda, or a set of activities that are designed to prompt their learner and help them move in the right direction.

In short, mentoring is usually best for holistic improvements while coaching is suited to targeted-skills development.


Coaches often perform some sort of evaluation to determine if the desired performance change has been met, particularly if coaching is being done at the workplace. Evaluation doesn’t take place during mentorship. However, the pair should continuously reflect on progress towards any targeted goals set during the mentoring process.

Start your Mentorship Journey

It’s clear that mentorship and coaching both have benefits and are valuable interventions depending on the individual's development goals.

We’ve seen the impacts of mentorship for both the mentors and mentees that take part in our programme, and we’re committed to helping tech communities learn how to make the most of the experience.