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6 Things to Know About Working With a Younger Mentor — and Why You Should

Learn valuable skills and build relationships by partnering with younger colleagues

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The benefits of mentoring relationships are well documented, from helping people feel happier in their jobs to advancing their professional development and career opportunities. Workplace mentoring relationships often involve an older, more experienced professional helping a younger protégé who is newer to the field. However, “reverse mentoring” — relationships in which a younger mentor works with a more seasoned protégé — can also be an effective way for workers to connect and learn from each other across generations.

“The data shows that as we progress in time, more and more people will report to someone who’s younger than them,” says Charlotte Japp, founder of Cirkel, a membership platform that matches cross-generational mentors and protégés. Collaborating with a younger mentor is not only a way to get comfortable reporting to someone younger, but it’s also a chance to realize we can learn something from everyone.

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Here are some tips on how to find and work with a younger mentor.

1. Think about what you want to learn

Think about your skills or work life in general. Are there areas where someone who grew up with technology might be able to help? For example, if you want to learn more about social media strategy, you might take a class. But if you want someone to teach you the ins and outs of TikTok or how to create a PowerPoint presentation with animation, finding someone who is very comfortable with those tools might help you learn in a targeted, more personalized way.

“When we were busy raising our children, that generation was creating videos from scratch and editing them and posting them all within three and a half minutes several times a day,” says career coach Chandra Turner, also known as the Talent Fairy. Tapping a younger mentor who is skilled in an area you want to learn can be a great way to get some effective coaching.

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2. Use your network to find a good fit

As you identify the skills you want to build or goals you hope to achieve, turn to your own contacts for recommendations. You can also seek out interesting people on platforms like LinkedIn and start a conversation, says diversity and mentoring consultant Dinye Hernanda. Be transparent about who you are and why you’re reaching out, she says. Sending a message like “I’m interested in learning [something in their area of expertise],” or “I’d like to get perspective from someone from a younger generation,” or “You have an expertise that I’m interested in” may help you strike up a conversation, she says.

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Some companies have formal mentoring programs that might offer opportunities to connect with younger mentors. In addition, communities like Cirkel make matches too. In fact, Japp created her business after seeing her parents experience ageism in their 40s and 50s, ultimately getting “pushed out” of long-term careers, she says. Japp, on the other hand, was at the start of her career and immersed in the day-to-day of the publishing world. As her parents transitioned to consulting careers, they sought out her feedback on everything from using social media to negotiation. She realized there was opportunity in connecting people across generations to learn from each other.

3. Be specific in your requests

Once you’ve identified someone who might be a good match, be specific in what you ask of them. Hernanda says it’s common for more mature workers to want to know about emerging technologies and their applications. In addition, she often sees requests for feedback on leadership styles from the perspective of a younger generation. State what you want to learn and what you’re asking a mentor to do — such as meet with you monthly for a few months or let you sit in on a few meetings to observe them, for example — and what the overall commitments will be.

It’s also a good idea to set goals for the relationship, Japp says. Define what you want to achieve in a specific amount of time, and how you’ll both measure whether the relationship is successful, she says.

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4. Leave room in the relationship to grow

While you want to have structure to make sure you accomplish your goals, you also want to allow time for spontaneous conversation, Hernanda says. As you learn more about each other, “you will learn more about the expertise of the mentor or the needs of the mentee,” she says. That may lead to new opportunities to help each other or new areas to discuss. She recalls that one of her mentoring relationships took place during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, and her mentoring partner wanted her perspective. “We didn’t have diversity and inclusion as a topic at the beginning,” she says. “We did spend two sessions talking about that, and that became a very integral part of the mentoring.”

5. Stay humble and curious

Hernanda says successful cross-generational mentoring relationships work best when both parties stay humble and curious. Don’t assume that you can’t learn from your counterpart. Ask questions and create a safe space for discussion. The goal is to learn, and the best way to do that is often through frank discussions. This is your chance to ask questions you probably wouldn’t ask a stranger, she says. Of course, it’s a good idea to set ground rules about discussion first to be sure everyone is comfortable with potential topics.

6. Look for opportunities to give back

Even as you seek information and insight from your younger mentor, you may find opportunities to teach them a thing or two, Japp says. If you have an opportunity to give back and share your insight or expertise, offer to do so. She adds that the term “reverse mentoring” has a double meaning. In addition to referring to a younger mentor, it can also mean a reciprocal approach to mentoring in which each individual helps the other.

“[Mentoring] should always be a reciprocated thing, where it feels egalitarian and inclusive and everyone’s experience and value counts,” Japp says.

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