Skip to content

Advice for Return to Work Mentors

Mentoring tips to make the experience as rewarding as possible for both parties

Thanks to Lynn Dewar, one of our Return to Work Mentors, for sharing her advice for mentors and mentees

I became a mentor for Women Returners last year, supporting returners to get back to work. My initial expectations were that I would be assisting with CVs and interview preparation, but my engagement with the mentees has been much broader. As well as their aspirations, they have shared personal challenges, anxieties around a return to work, a lack of time and support, worries about how they can juggle all that they do, and in some cases a wish to change career. It has been hugely interesting and rewarding. One year on, I’m sharing my learnings with other mentors (and potential mentors) along with some tips to share with mentees.

Tips for a Return to Work Mentor

Be enthusiastic

  • Set a great example by being enthusiastic and on time.
  • Re-confirm the availability of the mentee the day before meeting to avoid any last-minute confusion. It is also an opportunity to ask what the mentee would like to cover and any questions they may have, to allow you to be as prepared as possible.

Build trust

  • Show interest in them. Ask about their family situation, their support network, their objectives in beginning the return-to-work process, their concerns. Be an active listener.

Understand their skills and experience

  • Help make their CV and covering letter come alive. What will make your mentee stand out to a future employer? Is their personality coming through or hidden?
  • Ask how others would describe them (e.g. friends, family, ex colleagues) and encourage your mentee to use the positive language that others would use about them. Returners can be modest and may undersell themselves.
  • Aim to establish what is important to your mentee and understand any areas they cannot compromise.

Support Networking

  • Tease out their network, especially if they have had a long career break. Who can they reconnect with? Who else might support them? Which connections are they using? Are they on LinkedIn and how are they using it to connect?

Encourage Preparation

  • If a mentee has an interview, suggest ways for them to find out as much about the company as possible. Help them to consider answers to potential questions and to prepare some questions they wish to ask.
  • Be able to share an employer’s perspective: what might a potential employer expect or be seeking?


  • Researching, applying for roles and preparation for interviews can leave mentees feeling like it is “just too hard” to juggle everything. Encourage your mentee to consider what additional help they might seek at home from family or friends or which of their current activities they could reduce if they were to begin working. Reminding them of their objectives from the beginning of the return-to-work process can be helpful.

Advice to share with return to work mentees 

These are tips which my mentees have found helpful.


  • Be patient – you will be keen to find a role now that you have decided to return to work but the process may take time! Don’t be disheartened if you hear a “no thanks” from a potential employer. Don’t take it personally as they may have promoted an internal candidate.
  • Ask for feedback at each stage – it will help you to continue to improve.


  • Be enthusiastic in all your engagements
  • Find out as much as you can about the person you will be meeting
  • Be on time and even log on slightly early to ensure the technology is working!
  • Try not to keep rescheduling mentoring meetings – you mentor will likely be juggling lots of commitments too!
  • Prepare ahead of your call and think of questions to ask.


  • Treat even an informal call with a potential employer as an interview
  • Consider which questions you want to ask them. Prepare for questions they may ask you and practise your answers
  • Find out as much about them/the organisation as possible
  • Be clear on your values and expectations
  • Consider and be able to articulate your skills. How would you describe them to a future employer? Have great examples to back up any statements you make. Think about when you have excelled and of lessons learnt in your professional or personal life. If you have been a full-time mum for several years, you could use examples from helping at your child’s school or volunteering.
  • At an interview or on a call:
    • Do be succinct
    • Do prepare
    • Do be enthusiastic. Ask questions to show you are interested
    • Do have good eye contact
    • Don’t waffle or flannel. Say if you don’t know the answer
    • Don’t be late or leave it until the last moment in case the system crashes!