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Coach vs. Mentor: What’s the Difference?

Coach vs Mentor The Differences to Help You Choose

When you need a bit of a push to help you move forward, should you look for a mentor or a coach? It can be unclear what the differences between the two are, but there are some very important ones you need to know about. From your relationship, goals, expectations, and evaluations, there are significant differences between coach vs mentor. Read all about them and choose the right one for you!

Coach vs. Mentor: What’s the Difference?

Coach vs mentor sit together with coffee
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Differences Between Coach and Mentor

What is a Business Mentor?

Mentors of all kinds are people who use their personal and professional experiences to help guide others looking to follow a similar path. When it comes to business mentors, mentorship is focused on a professional level and usually is career-focused. Business mentors will help mentees with their career growth, improving soft skills, and reaching professional goals.

What Does a Business Mentor Do?

Business mentors might help business mentees set goals, make plans to accomplish them, and keep mentees on track to reaching those goals. They might offer professional advice, introduce new business contacts, and act as a resource for the world of business.

What is a Business Coach?

A business coach and client sit together with a laptop
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A business coach is much more focused on created clear steps to get you where you need to be in your career development. They focus on the skills you need to master, and the projects or stepping stones you need to strive for to get where you want to be.

Business coaches can also be used for a company, not an individual. In this case, the business coach is more focused on getting a business where it needs to be within a certain timeframe, and creating smaller steps towards achieving those goals. This may include individual employee goals, but the overall focus is the company’s success.

What Does a Business Coach Do?

Business coaches for individuals will work with their clients to understand what they have done in the past and what is obtainable in the future. They will look at business goals, determine a path to get there, and break up the path into smaller steps that will eventually lead to your or your company’s success.

Duration of Process

Mentorships can last a lifetime if the relationship is a successful one. While mentorships can wax and wane in strength over the course of a professional lifetime, they can remain intact and mentees should feel that they can reach out to a mentor after some time has passed.

Coaches, however, operate on a strict timeline, usually lasting less than one year. Coaches still want their clients to succeed and are happy to get updates, however the relationship is limited to the timeframe.

Performance or Development

While coaching is driven by performance, mentoring is driven by the development of the mentee. This can mean development of career, interpersonal skills, and/or professional network.

Mentors want to see you grow. Coaches also want to see you grow, but they will measure your growth on performance-based outcomes. They will look at if you are achieving goals, and hold you accountable to your performance.

Applications and Interrelations

Because coaching is aimed at achieving certain goals, the coach is a specialist who is brought in to help an individual or business. They clearly define the task and how to accomplish it, therefore, it can be said that they are task-first.

Mentors put focus on human relationships, with the knowledge and experience that personal life affects professional life as well.

Structures Built

In mentoring, there is limited structure. Participants will usually take time to get to know one another during the process. Later, meetings and evaluations can be done on an as-needed basis.

Coaching, however, can begin right away during the first session or meeting, is structured by requirements and outcomes, and is highly organized to accomplish goals.

Focus and Orientation

Coaches are strictly business. Coaches are there for a purpose and will focus on that.

Mentors, on the other hand, may develop a more personal relationship with the mentee. The mentorship may also take on a more holistic view of the mentee as a whole and look at factors beyond career.

Supervision and Input from Leadership

Student and mentor work together on computer
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In coaching, coaches give clear and intentional feedback and regularly supervise your performance on tasks. Input is usually given at coaching sessions, and supervision may occur outside of sessions.

In a mentorship, supervision is less formal. A mentor will likely be aware of what you are doing and will give you input if they deem necessary. However, the more likely route is that the mentee directly asks the mentor for input.

Outcome and Evaluation

Evaluation is clear in a coaching relationship. A coach and client come together at the beginning of the arrangement and set goals, and agree upon ways to be evaluated against those goals. For example, “reach out to three new sales contacts each week.” If you do not accomplish this goal, you will be evaluated as such.

Mentoring is more challenging to decide the outcome and evaluation of the relationship. A mentee and mentor should both have ideas of what they wish to offer and gain from the mentorship, and should have a conversation regarding those goals and ideas at the start.

Outcomes of mentorship are more fluid, however, and can change with time. Whereas in coaching, outcomes and deadlines will be clearly expressed.

Which Do You Need?

1. When to Use a Mentor

You should use a mentor if you are in school, recently graduated, or are new to a field or large company. People also often seek mentorship if they know someone personally and/or professionally that they admire career-wise and are looking for insight and guidance on how to achieve similar success.

2. When to Use a Coach

A coach is best used when a person or company has specific goals that they want to accomplish, and need professional help getting there. People or companies may choose to find a coach if performance is not up to standard, or if they are going through something new and untested.

3. Remember Your Stage

Use what stage you are at in your career goals as a basis for deciding if you need a coach or a mentor.

If you are just starting out, you need an experienced mentor who can guide you through your journey.

If you are already on your way but need a push, or specific help getting to the next level, a coach is for you.

4. Identify Your Needs

If you can identify your specific needs, a coach is a good idea. Coaches can help you reach certain goals.

If you are unsure of where to go or how to get there, a mentor can help you fine tune your goals and give you industry advice from their experience.

5. Strive to Have It All

Don’t feel like you need to choose a coach or a mentor — you can have both.

Coaches and mentors can serve a purpose at different stages in your career. You may choose to start with a mentor and later find a coach for an extra boost. Or you may know you need a coach now but come into contact later with someone who would be a great mentor.

6. Heed the Advice of Your Elders

Look at successful individuals or companies you aspire to be like and find out what resources they used. Do they have a clear mentor, or have they been upfront about using several coaches? Try to find out to help guide your decision whether to choose a coach or mentor.

Coach vs Mentor Summary

Mentor and mentee at coaching session with notebook
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1. Talking “To” vs “With”

Mentors will talk “with” mentees to discover what they are looking for, what they need support in, and how they are doing.

Coaches talk “to” their clients about their goals and steps to get there.

2. Approach

This is usually a self-guided approach where a mentor and mentee find one another organically, or perhaps through a mutual connection. The approach is very fluid.

Coaching, on the other hand, can be assigned, or found through a business or organization. The approach is specific and is more narrowly defined.

3. Tools

In a mentorship, you may draft up a mentorship agreement, but likely there will be no clear-cut or specific tools used to guide your mentor-mentee relationship.

When it comes to coaching, there are contracts involved and clearly defined expectations and performance factors.


Now you should have all the necessary information about coach vs mentor to help you make the right choice. Both coaches and mentors are there to help you succeed, but have different methods. It’s up to you to know which is best for you.