Mentor, Coach, or Sponsor – what’s the difference?

02 December 2019 -

Construction workersWe look at how the three disciplines differ, and how you can apply them

Charlotte Jones

Mentor, coach and sponsor. These three types of partnership can directly influence or support someone's career journey.

Many characteristics unite the three of them. However, while all three relationships involve supporting someone’s career development, they are very different disciplines in practice.


A coach provides specific guidance for an individual’s development, often focused on soft skills or specific targets over a short period of time. Career coaches help professionals with particular skills or issues, aiming to correct behaviours that are holding them back from performing at their best.

In comparison to mentoring, coaching is a lot more ‘hands-on’ and tends to be a task-orientated and performance-driven relationship, ending when targets or goals have been achieved. Successful coaching focuses on a targeted area and equips the individual with the skills needed to perform, rather than forming a longer-term, more abstract mentor relationship.


Where coaching can be a short-term solution designed to address a specific challenge, mentoring is a long-term partnership with a mentee, based on providing guidance and subject-matter expertise.

The role of a mentor is to be a source of wisdom, teaching and support, often for someone outside of their company or immediate environment. The traditional Mentoring relationship tends to involve individuals with years of experience in their field, who can guide an individual with less experience, helping to shape their future career goals and success. They can offer insights into the world of work and help to develop business confidence.

Mentoring can either be an informal relationship established between mentor and mentee, or it may form part of a structured organisational or educational programme. Alan Tang, Head of Special Projects at Wiser, has been mentoring students for four years and describes it as a long-term relationship built on trust. Tang, who currently mentors a Mexican student looking to find a graduate role in the UK, says: “Throughout the process, I've tried to pass on ideas rather than outright solutions. I want Alan to adapt and flex his approach as he develops, rather than just copying what I did.”

As mentees gain insight and experience, mentors can take pride in their success and development. As Tang notes, “That feeling of helping someone secure a life-changing goal is second to none.”


A sponsor is a network- and action-orientated mentor, taking mentorship to the next level. While mentoring is generally related to providing advice and guidance around key development areas, a sponsor is more personally involved in the mentee’s next career steps.

In a business context, sponsors are well-respected individuals who use their large networks to help with hiring and career decisions. Choosing to sponsor someone means becoming their advocate, both in public and behind closed doors. This could be anything from championing an individual for promotion to getting them on the books for conference presentations.

If sponsoring an individual, make sure that the person you’re choosing to sponsor has high levels of professionalism and integrity. Their behaviour reflects on your choice as a sponsor and advocate.

To sign up to mentor young professionals, join CMI Mentoring.

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