Differences between trainer, mentor, coach and consultant

Many people ask me what are the differences between trainer, mentor, coach and consultant. Indeed, this can be very confusing because these four types of people often will do more than what they are responsible for, perhaps because they are helpful by nature. Otherwise, they will not be doing what they are doing in the first place.

It will be good if we could look at how Oxford Dictionary defines them:

– trainer: a person who trains people or animals.

– mentor: an experienced and trusted advisor.

– coach: an instructor or trainer in sport.

– consultant: a person who provides expert advice professionally.

It might seem that a coach is actually a trainer. That is half the story. A trainer will only impart all the basic skills to play the game, but a coach will take it further and give a player / team the advice to perform better.

By giving advices, it would seem that a coach is actually a consultant. Not necessary. Although both give advices, the coach is concerned with performance, whereas the consultant is concerned with problems. In fact, the consultant is one who comes up with answers / solutions, and will often get his hands dirty, i.e. implementation work.

As for the mentor, it should be clear by now that he does not impart any technical knowledge or skills, nor is he involved in any implementation work; he is usually a general advisor without any involvement in the mentee’s work.

Below is a table that summarizes their responsibilities:

Responsibilities Trainer Mentor Coach Consultant
Imparts technical knowledge and skills Yes, basic skills only. No. No. User training.
Offers advice on… No. Beliefs, values, mindset and personal development. Performance, i.e. how to do things even better. Problems, i.e. specific issues or difficult situations.
Comes up with solutions, and / or be directly involved in implementation No. No. No, but helps clients to discover their own solutions. Yes, as it is expected to do so by clients.
Deliverables Basic competency. General advices. Advices and tips on how to be a better player and team-mate. Solution (product, system or setup) plus user training.
Duration Course period (short-term) On-going (long-term) On-going (long-term) Project period (usually short-term)

Naturally, different people will still have different understanding of these terms. This is why I started off this article by quoting Oxford Dictionary. The important thing here is the scope of work that is required by clients. An overlap of job scopes is something that is unavoidable in the real business world.
(last updated: 30 Aug 2014)