For Mentors and Mentees

Don't Ask Your Planning Mentor What to Do — Ask Them How to Think

In this video with Rick Willson, FAICP, PhD, who knows a thing or two about how mentoring can shape a planning career. We asked the planner behind APA's blog series "A Guide for the Idealist" about his tips for mentees and mentors alike.

Willson is a professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Cal Poly Pomona. His book, A Guide for the Idealist: How to Launch and Navigate Your Planning Career, was published in 2017.

Guidelines for Mentors


The mentor's role is to provide guidance around professional development opportunities that align with the mentee's career goals. By serving in a mentoring role, you are furthering professional development and shaping the future of planning.

As an advocate and leader, a mentor can help a mentee by providing knowledgeable and strategic advice. A mentor offers a perspective that comes only from experience, to encourage the mentee to build on core capabilities or pursue an innovative opportunity.

A Mentor Is Expected To:

  • Share knowledge and expertise
  • Help identify areas for growth
  • Make introductions
  • Provide constructive feedback and recognize accomplishments
  • Help the mentee think clearly about issues for decision making
  • Model professional behavior
  • Be an active listener and good observer
  • Possess both self-awareness and awareness of others' styles and preferences
  • Tolerate and respect individual differences
  • Provide encouragement and support while challenging the mentee to set higher performance goals
  • Exhibit patience and flexibility


A mentor's primary responsibility is to support the mentee through an ongoing, one-on-one relationship. You will create a mutually agreed-upon schedule of meetings. Meetings may occur via phone, Skype, or email exchanges, and may include face-to-face meetings. Provide honest answers to your mentee's questions and end your sessions on a positive note.


As a mentor, you agree to:

  • Determine alignment with the prospective mentee's desired goals and your skill sets.
  • Communicate with your mentee to confirm the match is a good fit or suggest that a new match is needed.
  • Work together to develop communication protocols and a meeting schedule.
  • Share your network of contacts and resources, and identify opportunities for mentee growth.


Acknowledge your time commitment. Be upfront about how much you will be available. Be willing to share personal challenges and successes, and keep sensitive conversations confidential.


These are just some of the rewards of mentoring:


  • Achieve satisfaction by guiding, teaching, and inspiring the next generation of planners.
  • Keep sharp professionally and advance your leadership through mentoring; it is a two-way exchange.
  • Develop your network. Through making introductions, you strengthen your own connections and establish new ones.
  • Build intergenerational relationships.
  • Form the basis for succession planning.
  • Gain a sense of renewed purpose and/or approach to problem-solving.
  • Model ethical behavior.
  • Share your wisdom.
  • Watch good mentoring live on as former mentees continue to contribute.
  • Establish values critical to the profession.
  • Earn pro bono Certification Maintenance credits.


Seasoned professionals, share your wisdom with an up-and-coming planner (or two). Help build a strong career foundation and connect with the APA community. Get started now by enrolling in Mentor Match.

Guidelines for Mentees


As a mentee, it is your responsibility to initiate a mentoring relationship. Introduce yourself, share why you want this person to be your mentor.

The relationship you are entering is for your personal benefit and professional development. Please develop a clear understanding of what you want to get out of the mentoring experience and be ready to share it with prospective mentors.

Prepare for each interaction with an agenda in mind: topics of conversation, objectives, visions, and dreams. Identify the skills, knowledge, and/or goals you want to achieve and communicate them to your mentor.

Getting the Most Out of the Relationship

  • Make a good first impression. Be prepared with a goal or topics for discussion in the first meeting.
  • Take time to get to know one another. Set expectations from the beginning of the relationship.
  • Bring a few specific topics for discussion to each session.
  • Frame good questions for your mentor: not "What should I do?" but "How should I analyze this situation?"
  • Be humble, listen attentively, and don't rush to judgment. Be open to feedback.
  • Clarify your expectations and communicate them to your mentor.
  • Be prepared to answer questions on where you are in your career and where you'd like to go.
  • Discuss how best to cancel or reschedule a meeting.
  • Commit to keeping schedule changes to a minimum.
  • Respond to your mentor on a timely basis.
  • Set conversational boundaries around personal topics you do not wish to discuss.
  • Thank your mentor, and acknowledge their gift of time.

Mentee Responsibilities

Take responsibility for your own growth and success. Be fully prepared for each meeting with your mentor. Meet commitments on time. Ask good questions.

Be open to learning new skills, attitudes, and behaviors. Establish and maintain confidentiality with your mentor. Be respectful of your mentor's time and show appreciation for his or her feedback.


As a mentee, you agree to:

  • Initiate contact with your mentor
  • Be proactive in shaping the overall experience
  • Work together to develop communication protocols and meeting schedules
  • Provide feedback to APA while in the mentoring relationship and at its close


Working with a professional mentor offers many rewards:

  • Receive honest and informal feedback.
  • Expand your professional network.
  • Advance your leadership skills.
  • Build intergenerational relationships.
  • Develop self-awareness and new skills.
  • Focus on your career path and long-term goals.
  • Get advice based on real-world experiences.
  • Create a lasting professional relationship.
  • Gain new approaches to problem-solving.
  • Get insight from alternative areas of experience.
  • Get recommendations for specific management practices.
  • Observe ethics in action.
  • Connect with a confidant about workplace concerns.