a woman and man sit at a desk working on the same task

Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring  

The words coaching and mentoring are often used interchangeably. While both strategies support individual career development, they are not the same. If you’re running a career development program at your organization, it’s important to understand the differences and the role each practice plays in an individual’s development experience. 

One of the first things we do with clients is define coach and mentor then coaching and mentoring within the context of the workplace. In this blog, we’ll do the same by first defining the role, then the practice, ending with similarities between coaching and mentoring. 

coaching vs mentoring venn diagram

Coaching in the workplace 

What is a career coach? 

A career coach is a professionally trained individual who directs and/or instructs an individual (coachee) on the skills/knowledge areas that enable the coachee to become more proficient when performing required responsibilities and that will result in a specific career direction.  

Characteristics of Coaching  

  1. The coach drives the engagement 
    The organization or coach determines the coachee’s goals based on their development needs. The coach develops a learning plan that will help the coachee master the skills/knowledge areas needed to achieve their development goals. 

  2. Coaches are usually assigned  
    Coaches can be internally or externally sourced, and are assigned to coachees based on the skills/knowledge areas the coachee needs to develop.  

  3. Coaches may not have the personal experience 
    Coaches may not have experienced the same career path as the coachee. However, they are trained to effectively facilitate learning for the coachee through questioning and exercises that result in achievement of the coachee’s goals. 

  4. Limited program capacity 
    When coaches are externally sourced to work with specific individuals (often leaders and high potentials), coaches are the largest expense in the program, contributing to limited program capacity.  

  5. Short term  
    Coaching engagements typically last 3, 6, or 12 months.  

6 Benefits of Coaching Individuals in the Workplace



What is a mentor? 

A mentor is an individual with specific knowledge or experience in a given area of expertise, who is willing and able to share that knowledge or experience with another.  

Keep in mind, that just because someone is an expert, does not mean they will make a good mentor. A mentor's willingness to share their knowledge and demonstrate the skills to be an effective mentor are key. Additionally, it is necessary to support mentors with training so they clearly understand their role and the goals of the mentoring program.


Characteristics of mentoring 

  1. Mentee Driven 
    The mentor guides the mentee through their career path, but the focus of the engagement is driven by what the mentee desires to work on. Together, the mentor and mentee develop and agree upon a mentoring plan to keep the partnership on track. 

  2. Mentors and mentees are matched 
    Participants are often matched using specific criteria like program goals, profiles, and competencies. 

  3. Mentors may have a similar career path or experience 
    Mentors and mentees usually belong to the same organization. The mentor typically has experience or knowledge the mentee wants to learn from. The mentor acts as a guide sharing their experience or knowledge to help the mentee further their career. 

  4. Large program capacity 
    Mentors are volunteers and are sourced internally. Greater numbers of mentors means the possibility of a greater number of participating mentees larger program capacity without a larger budget. 

  5. Long term 
    A formal mentoring partnership usually lasts 8-12 months. After this, mentors and mentees can continue their relationship formally or informally. Usually both parties find the engagement to be mutually beneficial and desire to stay connected and engaged with each other’s careers.  

19 Advantages of Mentoring in the Workplace


How are coaching and mentoring similar? 

Coaching and mentoring are both effective development strategies used to execute a variety of organizational initiatives. Some examples include leadership development, targeted skill competency, high potential development, and targeted programs. Both programs impact individual development and in turn, the profitability ROI of the organization.  

More specifically, both are: 

  • focused on the individual 
  • relationship based 
  • highly interactive 
  • ongoing (not a one-time meeting) 
  • goal oriented for the coachee/mentee 
  • organizationally and strategically aligned 

Insala offers mentoring consulting services and coaching consulting services to help you further differentiate between the two and help you create a successful mentoring or coaching program at your organization. To learn more about talent development options, starting, or simplifying a development program, book a meeting with our team here. 


Judy is the Director of Consulting and Mentoring at Insala. She has over 30 years of experience providing customized human resources consulting services to medium to large organizations across a variety of industries. In the area of mentoring, Judy has designed and delivered workshops, training, and a complete mentoring methodology. Judy’s mentoring process is the foundation of Insala’s mentoring solution we know today. Her thought leadership articles have been published in journals such as The Diversity Journal and Industrial and Commercial Training and she has spoken at many conferences throughout her career.

Topic: ,

Related Posts


How To Improve Your Healthcare Employee Coaching Program With Less Effort

How To Improve Your Healthcare Employee Coaching Program With Less Effort It would be an understatement to say that HR has had their work cut ...

Read more

7 Ways To Improve Coaching At Your HR Consulting or Coaching Firm

7 Ways To Improve the Coaching Program In Your HR Consulting or Coaching Firm It would be an understatement to say that HR has had their work ...

Read more

Benefits of Coaching for Organizations

5 Benefits of Coaching for Your Organization We have entered an era where providing continuous feedback, guidance and support to employees is ...

Read more

What is Digital Coaching?

Develop Employees Through Digital Coaching Coaching is a popular and effective development strategy. 70% of ...

Read more

Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring

Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring

Read more