Why You Shouldn’t Pay Your Mentor

By Mike BergelsonJanuary 18, 2013

It’s a touchy subject. You’re getting so much help from your mentor, so should you offer to pay? Or perhaps you’ve approached mentors who’ve asked to be paid for their time. Is it appropriate? In this post we’ll look at the pros and cons of paying your mentor.

The Argument for Payment

Some people make a persuasive argument that you should pay your mentor. Technology innovator Claire Diaz-Ortiz, for example, wrote in a recent blog post that you should pay because:

  • It’s hard to get good, free mentors.
  • Quality mentorship is better than free mentorship.
  • Good mentors have good connections.

The people who can really make a difference in your career are typically busy high-level people, and they are hard to connect with. Offering payment can create an added incentive for them to agree to mentor you. Those quality mentors can give you such valuable advice and connections that it’s worth paying for the experience.

These are all valid points. And indeed, there’s certainly a place for paying people for advice and help.

Coaching, for example, is typically a paid-for service, and entrepreneurs often hire paid advisors to help them in the early stages of a start-up.

These relationships tend to be shorter-term, however, and more aimed at meeting a particular goal, whereas mentoring is a long-term commitment with a broader aim of development. We’ll explore the differences between coaching and mentoring more in future posts.

Against Payment

All of our mentors on Everwise are experienced people whose time is valuable. They qualify as the kind of “quality” mentors Diaz-Ortiz mentioned. And yet they happily participate as volunteers.


Because there are so many non-monetary benefits of being a mentor. As a protégé, you may feel as if you’re the one getting all the help, but in fact it’s a two-way street.

Mentors report a number of important benefits, from gaining new insights and helping their own careers to creating a legacy.

Many mentors also want to “give back,” helping someone else in the same way that they were helped in their younger days. As we’ll explore in our upcoming series on famous protégés, many highly successful people – from Steve Jobs to Mike Tyson – felt that mentoring had changed their lives, and so were eager to mentor others. They weren’t doing it to make a buck.

The Bottom Line

Our view is that the idea of paying a mentor misrepresents the mentoring relationship. It makes it into a service to be paid for, not a two-way relationship that brings lasting benefits to both parties.

Your mentor is someone who’s in your corner for the long term, ideally for a lifetime. It’s fine to show your appreciation by offering to pay for lunch, or by helping your mentor out in any way you can. But don’t cut a check.

If you feel the urge to pay for mentoring, that’s good. But instead of paying your mentor, why not pay it forward, by making yourself available to mentor someone else when the opportunity arises. That way, the benefits of mentoring ripple forward for generations to come.

Mike Bergelson

Mike Bergelson

CEO at Everwise

About the Author

Mike Bergelson is the CEO and a co-founder of Everwise, a talent development startup that connects employees to the people, development resources and experiences they need to thrive at every stage of their career.

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