I googled "mentoring" and a hundred and one definitions cropped up. They usually involved those who are older and more experienced imparting their wealth of knowledge to those who are younger and have less knowledge.

Delve into AQR’s mentoring scheme and a different picture emerges. Yes, there can be some of this going on but equally people apply to it with history in this area: not just newbies looking for advice, but also experienced quallies interested in the thoughts of those now at the core of the business as to where they might belong.

Our scheme, which is free and open to all members, was initiated in 2012, and organised by Vanessa Rogers, Trish Parker and Gerald Kreinzces. Given that it exists under the radar for the most part, AQR thought it was time to speak to some of the mentors and mentees who have been taken part.

“Crazy not to”

What was refreshing was the attitude of mentees towards it. “Given the opportunity to do it, you’d be crazy not to,” said Mentee A (they were all guaranteed anonymity before being interviewed) who has worked in research for some 18 months. Her expectations were simple: “I wanted to chat through some stuff, get advice on the best course of action to take, and the benefit of someone else’s experience.”

Each mentor sets out their stall online. “I only approached one,” said A. “I just got in contact with her because she had done research with kids, an area I was quite interested in hearing more about, and also because she was running her own company. To be honest, I didn’t spend a huge amount of time researching options just because I thought that getting any feedback or relationship with those offering help would be useful and interesting.”

Mentee B had a different agenda. She had literally just rejoined AQR when the email about the scheme came round and thought: “Wow, that’s brilliant.” Previously she had fallen out of the mainstream quallie world, busy launching teenagers into the world and studying for an MA. Even though she had kept her hand in, and knew what her skills were, she didn’t know where to put her efforts.

“I didn’t know what the scheme would deliver or whether I was a bit past it,” she says. “Then I got this email back saying you are exactly the person we are hoping to mentor.” Since then she has met up with her mentor a few times, praises her to the skies and has drawn up an informal contract. “I have been aware for a while that I have to relaunch myself if I want to continue as a freelancer,” she says, “but have had coaching before and didn’t want the same kind of pressure.” Mentoring, she feels, is very much geared to what she wants and how she wants to proceed without any of coaching’s drawbacks.

The mentor's viewpoint

AQR currently has ten mentors in the programme. Geoff Bayley, who has a long history of involvement with the Association, is one of the names up there. He feels that AQR is in a unique position to provide a mentoring service because it combines industry experience and a very safe and neutral place in which to operate. Individual companies will use outside coaching companies, whereas mentoring is quite different.

“If I think back to my own career, being able to talk to someone with a detached perspective would have been really valuable,” he says. “There is probably more inhibition in going to a private coach, and there are financial implications.”

Each mentee has a different reason for signing up, and there is no obvious pattern as to how long the relationship with their mentor will last, either. It can be just for a couple of sessions or it can go on much longer. And who can say just why that is? Geoff has a feeling that the ‘light bulb’ moment is when the mentee decides to join the scheme; taking ownership of what they feel is a problem and looking to resolve it.

“The one big thing is that mentees may not think it consciously,” he says, “but they often feel they have a unique problem. In fact, the characteristics of the problem are shared, so it’s a normalising process, pushing them in the direction of self inquiry, introducing various coaching tools to help them in the process.”

Mentoring role reversals

The mentors and mentees I spoke to are enthusiastic about the scheme, but realistic about the effort it involves on both sides. Geoff cites honesty, commitment and perseverance as being key. Blue Martin, another of the mentors, signed up to the scheme because she was only too aware of how mentoring had helped her as a mentee earlier in her career.

Indeed, some mentees have previously been mentors themselves, albeit in a different capacity. The relationship is what’s important, though, not background. Mentee C said she had a very different personality to her mentor but that he was excellent to work with. “He gave the different perspective that I was looking for — and lots of fresh ideas!” she said. “He was able to connect me to other people who were very helpful as well, and gave me some great exercises to work through to consider the best future career direction for me — and what I wanted out of my role and my work.”

The mentees were very honest about how the experience has changed their day-to-day life. “If you talk through with someone else what you really didn’t want to ask or were unsure about at work, it gives you the confidence to do something about it,” says Mentee A.

Heightened awareness

And finally, how has it affected their perception of AQR? Some previously had no awareness, while others now view it as an association which reflects what is going on in the industry a bit more, focusing on the bigger picture rather than getting bogged down in details. Result.

AQR’s accredited mentors are experienced quallie members wanting to give something back to the research industry and who do this on a voluntary basis. They have all been trained by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.