New study examines the effectiveness of instrumental mentoring for young adults

Schenk, L., Sentse, M., Lenkens, M., Nagelhout, G. E., Engbersen, G., & Severiens, S. (2020).  Instrumental Mentoring for Young Adults: A Multi-Method Study. Journal of Adolescent  Research, 0743558420979123.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Although there is a limited amount of research on instrumental mentoring, where the mentor supports the mentee to accomplish particular goals by providing advice, guidance, explanations, or suggestions, it still serves as a promising approach to mentoring young adults.  
  • This study explores how relational closeness and goal-focused activities impact the quality of relationships young adults have in instrumental mentoring. 
  • Quantitative data discovered that clusters with high levels of closeness were associated with satisfaction, and perceived attitude similarities, and being instrumentally compatible.
  • Qualitative findings suggest that experiencing closeness might be a product of obtaining instrumental support and that mentees’ lower levels of closeness might be because of their previous experiences. 
  • It is recommended for mentors to set goals based on their mentees’ preferences – this will help provide mentees a sense of control with their goals.
  • Since mentors provide advice, support, as well as opportunities to network and advocacy, it is important for mentees to be matched with a mentor that suits their instrumental needs.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Closeness between mentor and mentee is previously defined as an important indicator of relationship quality in youth mentoring, but whether this is the case in instrumental mentoring for young adults remains unclear. This is an exploratory study examining how instrumental mentoring serves young adults in their instrumental needs and how relational closeness develops. We applied a mixed-methods design, using quantitative data from a study of an instrumental mentoring program in Rotterdam, The Netherlands (N = 53), and qualitative data from a subsample of participants (N = 10). Two statistically distinctive clusters of closeness were found; 49% of the mentees reported high levels of closeness, and 51% reported low levels of closeness in their mentor relationship. Multivariate analyses of variance (MANOVAs) showed that the cluster with high levels of closeness was correlated with instrumental compatibility, satisfaction, and perceived attitude similarities. Semistructured interviews were used to illustrate the role and development of closeness for mentees in both clusters, and three cases were presented. Experiencing closeness seemed a result of receiving instrumental support, not a precondition. Mentees’ previous experiences might in some cases explain the lower levels of closeness, but this did not always hinder mentees to profit from their mentors’ support.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The present study explored the role of closeness in instrumental mentoring for young adults. Young adults with practical needs in mentoring programs require guidance, support, and advocacy, which makes instrumental mentoring better suited for young adults than developmental mentoring (Bowers, 2019; Cavell & Elledge, 2014; Rhodes, 2019). As research on the role of closeness in instrumental mentoring is limited (see Lyons et al., 2019), and especially on how instrumental mentoring supports young adults, the present study set out to explore the role of closeness in instrumental mentoring for this specific group. A two-cluster solution was validated based on the levels of closeness mentees indicated to experience with their mentor. The first group reflected mentees experiencing high levels of closeness from their mentor. The second group reflected mentees who experienced lower levels of closeness with their mentor. Compared to mentees with low levels of closeness, mentees with high levels of closeness perceived their mentor to be more compatible with their instrumental needs, were more satisfied with their mentor relation, and perceived more similarities in attitude between them and their mentor. Case studies illustrated the way closeness developed, mainly as a result from receiving instrumental support. In the group of low levels of closeness, there was more variation in how mentees experience this lack of closeness. For some mentees this was problematic, for others this was their preference as the result of their experiences with social services. 

Although mentees in the High closeness cluster were more satisfied with the relation and perceived their mentor as more compatible with their needs, the mentees in the Low closeness cluster were not unanimously dissatisfied with their mentoring relation. For some, the emotional distance between them and their mentor was how they liked their relation to be, and still led to the achievement of some very important goals. For others, the lack of emotional support seemed more problematic. Here, the lack of setting goals seemed to hinder the development of the relation. Previous research has indicated the importance of concrete goal setting in instrumental mentoring (Keller, 2005). With no close bond and no concrete goals to work on, the contact remained superficial and vague and may lead to early closure of the match. For young adults this experience on top of their previous experiences with social services is rather problematic (Spencer, 2007).

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