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Mentoring skills: Signposting

As a mentor, you aren't expected to know everything. Being able to point your mentees to other resources is just as important.

What is signposting?

Signposting is directing your mentee to other resources or organizations that may be able to help them.

Signposting can be just as important as helping your mentee directly. Not only does it widen the support they can get, it can help to develop their research skills as they learn what kind of resources they can rely on.

How to signpost effectively

Identifying appropriate resources

You can spot whether a resource is appropriate for your mentee with a few simple questions:

Is it reliable?

When you send a resource to your mentee, you are giving it your seal of approval, so you need to satisfy yourself that it is reliable and accurate. This might be fairly straightforward if it's a subject you already know a lot about. If not, there are some things you can do to determine whether a resource is reliable enough.

  • Look for parts that you do know about: if you spot errors in these parts, you'll know the rest may not be trustworthy.
  • Consider the source: you can't always trust something just because it's from a well-known source, but it's a good place to start
  • Check for references: If you can easily check a resource's references, it's easier to rely on it. For example, Wikipedia articles are often considered unreliable, but they do list sources for readers to check.

Sometimes, there's a trade-off between how reliable a resource is and how easy it is to use. For example, the official websites for government departments or universities will usually have the most up-to-date, accurate information, but they may be harder to navigate or understand than unofficial sources.

If you think a resource will be useful but you're not totally sure about it, you can warn your mentee that they should treat it carefully and check facts against other sources. This can be a useful skill for them to learn in itself.

Is it at the right level?

Resources that are too advanced might be difficult for your mentee to use effectively – but something too basic might provide less value and could even seem patronizing. Think carefully about what will be most useful for your mentee in their current situation, and remember that you can provide a few different resources and let your mentee identify which ones are best for them.

What is it for?

Whether a resource is appropriate also depends on what your mentee will be using it for. If it's simply to inform them, then you don't need to worry too much about this. If they might be using it as a source for a piece of work, though, it will need to be suitable for this.

Helping your mentee to get the most out of resources

Your mentee may need further support to make the most out of the resources you direct them to. It may be useful to also send them information on skills like:

If they will be using them to support work at school, college or university, they may also need support to understand how to reference their work appropriately and avoid plagiarism.

Asking for feedback

It's a good idea to follow up with your mentee about the resources you have sent them. Ask whether they found them helpful, and why. This will help you to:

  • Identify whether there are further resources that your mentee might find useful
  • Understand what kind of resources your mentee finds most useful
  • Develop your signposting skills for the future

Your mentee might feel like they have to say the resources you suggested were helpful so they don't feel ungrateful. Let them know that you are asking so that you don't send unhelpful resources in the future, and that they can be honest.

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