6 Unwritten Rules of Mentoring Millennials

Open book with blank pages

Unwritten rules for mentoring millennials

When I started my career in 1989 I was assigned a mentor. He was the person I was supposed to meet with to learn and grow. It was a good relationship for me. We would meet regularly. He would give me some good advice. And I learned from it.

Things are different these days. As Millannials enter the workforce, baby boomers are learning that they just learn differently. Most of them are a lot smarter than we were at that age.

Millennials have much more information at their fingertips today than we had back in the olden days. We need to rethink the way mentoring works to ensure a more productive relationship for both parties.

Related post: Is it Professionalism or Old School?

1) Listen at least as much as you talk

We usually think of mentoring with the mentor spewing his or her knowledge from many years of experience. Meanwhile, the mentee sits there and tries to absorb these gems to learn and grow.

But what if the lessons you are trying to teach aren’t valuable to the mentee? What if you teach them sales tactics and they want to learn about your engineering experience?

By making it a conversation, where you ask them what they are interested in learning, you can glean where they want to go. You can still drop some tidbits that you think might be helpful. But you also can target your advice in a direction that will be most helpful to your mentee.

2) Make it informal

A mentoring relationship doesn’t have to mean that the two of you meet every Monday at 2:00 PM in conference room 7B. You can take a coffee break together every once in a while and just talk. On a nice day, take a 15-minute walk. Have lunch together once in a while or stop for a drink after work.

The more you develop a personal relationship with your mentee, the more likely you will learn their strengths and weaknesses and the more the mentee will begin to trust you. With trust comes the questions that he or she really wants answered.

It also makes for a more fun and interesting mentoring relationship.

3) Don’t call it mentoring

Along with de-formalizing the process, why not do away with the term altogether. Why not just be a person that gives another person advice. If they stop by your office and explain a problem they are having, you could just advise them. You don’t have to change into your mentoring hat. Just talk. Offer them advice. Let them go on. It’s really that simple.

4) Mentor by asking questions

I’ve seen mentoring become an ego boost. People have that in-head conversation that says, “I’m a mentor now. I have to radiate my knowledge to make this person realize how knowledgeable I am.”

Mentoring isn’t about the mentor. It’s about the mentee. You can give them advice. You can tell them what to do. But another, more effective way is to get them to make their own decisions.

If they come to you with a problem, ask them what they think their options are. Ask them if they have considered all of the options and the pros and cons of each one.

This approach will be a little more difficult for them. They may just want the answer. But as I’ve told my kinds, if I solve all of your problems for you, you will never learn how to solve problems yourself.

5) Don’t expect exclusivity

When a company implements a mentoring program, it usually links a new employee with a seasoned veteran. You are this guy’s mentor. Sometimes they match people with similar skills and interests. Sometimes they don’t.

Regardless of how the match is determined, one mentor can’t possibly teach a less knowledgeable employee everything he needs to learn. If they have an interest in an area which you don’t have much knowledge, you can’t just fake it until you make it. Why not recommend someone you know that has that knowledge?

By encouraging your mentee to get advice from multiple mentors, he or she will get multiple points of view and advice in a wider variety of topics.

Related post: The Mentor Who Knew Too Much

6) That new employee may not be as green as you think

The Millennial generation that is entering the workforce today is much more knowledgeable and experienced than any other preceding generation. They have been on the internet and have been using smartphones for much – if not all – of their lives.

Some of them have already started and sold their own businesses. They know how to apply applications that older generations just don’t get.

So while you’re busy sharing your knowledge and experience to your mentee, take a moment to see what knowledge they have to transfer to you. Don’t understand Twitter? Ask them how they use it and how they would apply it to your business. Perhaps they have their own website that they have monetized for some side income. Ask them what tools and plugins they use and how they would apply that at your company for more revenue.


The mentoring program you went through when you were young may not apply in today’s world. There are better ways to share knowledge with a new generation who has a different approach to learning. By applying some “unwritten rules” you can make it a more productive relationship for both of you.

How have you applied different techniques to mentoring with Millennials?

If you would like to learn more about mentoring between Millennials and Baby Boomers, get Lew and Jeff’s book The Reluctant Mentor on Amazon.

I welcome your questions and comments.

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