Making the best match

Successful mentoring relies on a long-term relationship between the mentor and mentee. How can mentoring programs create matches that are likely to last?

If you eat healthy foods and exercise for a year you will likely see more results than if you do the same thing for only a few months, right? Similarly, long-lasting mentoring relationships tend to lead to greater youth outcomes than shorter-term matches. So, how do we make matches that will last longer?

Recent research indicates match success is linked to the mentee’s perception of similarity, as mentees prefer mentors who are significantly similar to them. Race, gender and other surface similarities are far less important than similarities in values, beliefs, personality and interests. This means programs need to dig deep with both mentors and mentees to make strong matches.

While you can ask questions about interests on an application, an interview or face-to-face conversation is needed to get a feel for a person’s personality, beliefs and values. I have heard a few mentoring professionals say they do not have time to interview each youth and mentor, but based on this research and personal experience, I would suggest programs save valuable time by conducting interviews. Think about it—how much time goes in to recruiting, screening and training volunteers and participants? If the match isn’t strong and it ends prematurely, you have to start all over again while possibly combating the negative word of mouth from those who had a poor experience with the program. By digging deep in the beginning, we are more likely to create stronger matches that last.

To help programs do this, Michigan State University Extension has created tip sheets with sample questions for interviewing mentors as well as youth and parents. In addition to matching youth and mentors based on deep similarities, mentors and mentees should have realistic expectations for the program. Mentor and mentee training is an important part of developing this understanding.

By using this information and tools, programs can create a screening process that will provide the information needed to make matches that last.

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