Coaching Versus Mentoring: What’s the Difference?

Posted on December 30, 2012 by VITAL WorkLife

Updated March 16, 2021

You'll sometimes hear the words mentoring and coaching used interchangeably because there are similarities—but there are also important differences.

  • Coaching tends to be job- and performance-oriented. A coach is almost always a senior employee working with a junior employee in the same organization to develop specific behaviors or skills. Click here to learn more about our coaching solutions. 
  • Mentoring tends to be more global, focusing on the whole person—helping that person to develop career and life goals, broaden his or her business and social networks, and providing perspectives on how to handle career and personal stresses.

Some organizations have formal mentoring programs where employees are assigned mentors, but most mentors are self-selected. Self-selected mentors do not necessarily work in the same organization—but ideally they work or have worked in the same industry or job function as the person being mentored.

"A coach has a certain amount of self-interest in helping a direct report learn how to handle tasks that can then be delegated," notes Jody Bertram, senior EAP consultant for VITAL WorkLife. "Most mentors have no agenda other than the personal satisfaction they get from using their own experience to help others grow personally and professionally."

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