Coaching vs Mentoring – The Basics


Coaching and mentoring are two popular approaches that aim to help individuals grow and develop within a workplace or educational setting.

Both of these terms are sometimes used interchangeably; however, while each serve to develop an individual and has similar concepts, the practices differ in their foundational goals and roles. There are significant differences that must be understood before deciding which method is best for you as an individual, a business or school/university setting.

To avoid future confusion, in this blog we will look at general definitions of mentoring and coaching, as well as the similarities and, more importantly, the key differences.



Mentoring, at its most basic, refers to a senior or more experienced person – a mentor – assisting a mentee in acquiring more knowledge in a specific subject.

Mentors serve as guides, sharing skills and knowledge as well as personal experience to assist individuals in developing and growing. Often, mentoring is focused on personal development and becoming your best self, reaching your full potential as a person.

Mentors provide their mentee with advice, feedback, and a listening ear. Read our Mentoring: The Basics blog for more information on mentors and mentoring.



Coaching is a specific type of mentoring that involves a coach and a coachee (the person being coached) identifying and setting goals. Coaching focuses more on the individual’s personal goals and helps to achieve them through actions.

Coaching tends to focus on improving one specific skill or goal. For example, within a business environment this may include improving your pitching skills, working on time management or achieving a 15% increase in sales. Although the focus is on one skill, or goal – the process may have an impact on an individual’s wider personal attributes, such as confidence.

To achieve goals – the coach gives the power over to the coachee, allowing them to draw their own conclusions through active listening, questioning, and challenging their perspectives in order to shape their mindset.


Coaching vs Mentoring – Comparison

There are certainly similarities when it comes to coaching and mentoring and it’s easy to see why those not familiar with each approach may be unclear on which is which. In order to choose the approach that best suits your desired outcomes, it will be helpful to have a clear understanding of how both approaches are comparable, taking into account the similarities as well as the differences.

Firstly, let’s take a look at some of the similarities.

Coaching and mentoring – Similarities

  • Provide support for a person’s development through defined roles. This includes the sharing of knowledge, developing new skills, and increasing self-awareness.
  • Are both usually based on one-to-one relationships, over a set period of time
  • Include elements of training, orientation, and education
  • Are based on trust – and supportive, non-judgmental support
  • Involve meetings and active engagement between the coach and coachee, or mentor and mentee, over a certain period of time
  • Involve observing, listening, and asking questions to understand the individual’s situation, and goals. Goals or desired outcomes tend to be set at the beginning of the coaching or mentoring relationship.
  • Use a variety of questioning techniques to shape thought processes.


Coaching and mentoring – Differences

Coaching and mentoring differ within a number of factors such as length of time, process, and approach. Below, we have detailed a few of the factors in which you can see the differences when compared side by side.

A visual image comparing basics of mentoring and coaching

As the infographic above shows, mentoring is typically more long-term than coaching. Coaching is typically delivered through a series of one-on-one meetings that focus on accountability and action, whereas mentoring focuses on teaching and sharing experience and can be a more structured approach than less formalised coaching.


Final Thoughts on coaching vs mentoring

Coaching is more likely to be focused on your job or a specific career goal, whereas mentoring is more likely to be focused on you. Mentors will share their knowledge and experience with you to help you learn and grow, while coaches will pose questions to get you thinking about your strengths, weaknesses, and goals.

Whichever development approach you believe is best for you, it is the first step in a journey that will undoubtedly benefit you both personally and academically. Whichever development approach you think suits you best – it is the first steps in a journey that will no doubt have positive impacts on you, personally, and academically.