Mentoring Millennials

By Roberta Attanasio, Forever Leaders Editor

Mentoring is becoming more and more popular, but it’s not clearly conceptualized—and why should it be? We need a variety of mentoring models, based on different and continuously evolving structures and functions, and adapted to different organizations and situations. The classical definition of mentoring describes a relationship—in this relationship, an individual with limited experience, called a mentee or protégé, interacts with a more experienced individual, known as a mentor.

However, conceptualization of mentoring calls for additional definitions, as for example those related to the role of the mentor, the activities in which mentor and mentee engage together, and the distinctive characteristics of a successful mentor. While such conceptualization could be helpful in selected mentoring programs and mentoring relationships, it risks to hinder the success of the mentor/mentee relationships by locking in selected features that may not apply to larger groups and changing social structures. Successful mentoring requires an “outside the box” approach.

Let’s explore a case in point: mentoring millennials. Mentoring relationships are of special value to millennials, as they appreciate frequent feedback. However, the classical mentoring approach needs to be changed—indeed, it has been changing.

Millennials favor a team approach. Therefore, they do not rely on “a mentor”. Rather, they prefer a group of mentors, so to choose the best one for a specific situation. In addition, millennials like to participate to the mentoring relationship as “equals”—gone is the senior/junior dichotomy, or the top to bottom approach. Something good is coming out of it: knowledge flows in both directions, and the more experienced mentors can learn a great deals from the less experienced ones. In other words, the talent and knowledge brought to the partnership by the mentee are fully recognized.

Furthermore, millennials like time-efficient mentoring relationships that involve numerous interactions. Thus, they count on face-to-face meetings, as well as virtual ones, and prefer to include frequent, shorter “check-ins.” They aspire to security while seeking diversity of options in their career, and expect to be stretched and stimulated—group mentoring can help them rise to the challenges they actively look for.

In 2010, millennials surpassed baby boomers as the largest demographic cohort in U.S. history. Not surprisingly, their needs, preferences, and desires are changing the way we conceptualize problems and approach them—mentoring relationships already reflect the millennial blueprint and, in their changing version, will support the intriguing combination of optimism and realism that characterize this up and coming generation.

Copyright © 2016-2018 Forever Leaders.


  1. I feel blessed in the fact that throughout my life I have been able to find people that have life changing advice for me, and sometimes I actually listen. I am a hard worker, and I have never appreciated the stereotype that millennials don’t want to work. I don’t want to work a meaningless 9-5 that I have no connection with and nothing to truly stimulate me, but I work my butt off when it comes to things I love. I happen to really love school and never before in my life has it been such a passion as it is now, and this fire reflects in my work (when I’m not overloaded with responsibilities as I tend to be). I think it is because of this and sheer providence that I found Dr. Parks my first semester (thank you,
    Dr. Parks has become a mentor to me, though I didn’t quite realize it at the start. In fact, I have never really considered my mentors “mentors” until quite recently. Looking back though, I have had many wonderful people contribute to my life with advice and support. Recently that support led me to a position in a research lab containing 6 shiny graduate students who are all really wonderful and an excellent PI, Dr. Chin. These two women are the lights of my life at the moment and though Dr. Parks and I don’t talk as often as we used to, she has helped me tremendously through both personal and academic challenges.
    I agree with this blog and I appreciate its acknowledgement that millennials are changing the paradigm around mentorship, but also as Nicole said, we’re changing the paradigm around productivity in the workforce and that there can be more than one way to achieve great results.

  2. Having a mentor has somehow become a necessity for many millennials nowadays. While it is certainly beneficial, I worry that many of my peers have become too reliant on these mentors and are not doing enough to improve themselves, but rather want someone to hand them everything on a silver spoon.
    Many of my peers do not work for what they want: they will state how much they yearn to complete a goal, then continue by gaining a mentor and using their mentor for the wrong reasons. Your mentor isn’t there to hand you everything you want automatically, but rather guide you to use your own opinion/knowledge to further your understanding and achieve your goals. I personally admit that I have stated how much I want to make an A in a class but never worked hard enough to achieve it. However, when given a mentor, I make sure to never take advantage of their advice. I listen and work my best to incorporate their advice into my life to improve everything little by little. That is another problem many millennials mistake to be true: mentors are not there to improve our lives overnight. The same way that eating one healthy dinner and working out for one hour won’t let us drop 50 pounds of weight overnight, neither will the advice of a mentor completely turn our lives around. Everything is a process, and as much as we use the advice of our mentors, they are also still learning. They can’t give us the secrets to having a perfect life with perfect grades and a perfect career because they still haven’t figured it out themselves. Nor have their mentors, or their mentors’ mentors, or anyone beyond them. We need to stop treating mentors as above us, and see them more as a more experienced mirror version of ourselves. We want to be them when we grow older, but we also want to learn from their mistakes. I personally would rather learn from the mistakes of my mentor and implement these corrections into my own life rather than just copy his/her actions word for word and end up with the same problems they had.
    Overall, I believe that having a mentor is beneficial when used properly: a mentor should be used to advance our own goals and knowledge, rather than be used to have a free ride through life. It makes no sense to make it to the top of a company you know nothing about. I agree with the blog post above stating that a team group of mentors is favored instead of one, because not every mentor will have the right/best answer to a problem, so having various opinions can help a mentee come to a more inclusive conclusion by using small ideas from each mentor to create an overall solution.

    • I find your opening comment interesting and true. Millennials seem to have a reputation for having an altered work ethic compared to the baby boomer population. I believe this is true but we are still as productive if not more so than those who have been in the workforce 30-40 years. The way the world revolves is constantly evolving and millennial are more adaptable when it comes to keeping up with these changes. However, I do believe Millennials tend to slack off a little at times. In the circumstance of having a mentor, the mentee might be more likely to expect opportunities and circumstances to be handed to them, just as you said, overnight. Everything is a process and we must continue to work and pursue our ambitions. Sometimes finding that balance is the most difficult part but it is well worth the investment.

    • I had so many people tell me that they had mentors who shaped their beliefs; while they did not pressure me to find a mentor of my own, I felt that I had to. Sheryl Sandberg, the author of “Lean In,” mentions how she did not feel comfortable mentoring for strangers. Being a mentor means wanting to see someone grow, and so you decide to mentor them and guide them. I realized that trying to ask someone I barely knew to become my mentor may have come off as awkward and strange to them. Mentoring goes both ways–both mentors and those being mentored learn from each other and grow further in their paths. So I met one mentor who was actually someone that went to the same church ass I did. She knew me for years so I did not feel as detached. She gave me spritual advice more, but they did shape and influence me. The fact that she was an introvert just like me helped me relate to her on a personal level. However, as you said, mentors do give advice and suggestions, but they may not be always right; they are humans too. I also agree with you that millenials should not feel that finding a mentor is required in life.

  3. Having a mentor is definitely something I have been frequently hearing about these days. I am now understanding the importance of having one too. Today, I can recognize who in my life could be potential mentors for me. I have always wanted to have a relationship with someone where I can get professional advice and gain insight from. I totally agree with how millennials want the relationship to be between mentor and mentee. I think we as millennial can give the mentors our view and help them as well as they are helping us. We have a lot to offer and a lot of unique experiences under our belts. We also want to have a good communication with the mentor, and today that is so easy with texting, phone calls, and video chat.

  4. Mentoring is definitely a topic that is greatly discussed by women who have reached the peak of their career. Any advice that I receive from promoted women always includes getting a mentor. As of now, I still don’t have one person that I refer to as my mentor. However, I do have one person that relates to me very well and is able to give me guidance/advice in the direction that I am moving. With that being said, I think that my style of mentoring is actually a little more traditional than millennials. This is due to my personality. I’m an introvert who prefers to go to one person to get all of the information that I need. Maybe this is why I am still in search of a mentor. I am also very enclosed and I don’t like to tell a lot of people about my personal life. I think that I have a mentor in the doctor that interviewed me for medical school. My medical school is a Jesuit school and the doctor that interviewed me is an African American women who practiced in pediatrics. She greatly relates to me and would be able to give promising advice and guidance. One thing that I do agree with is that I do enjoy numerous interactions with her. Every time I get an update about my status, when I returned back from my study abroad trip, and even if I have questions concerning the process I will reach out to her. I find reasons to speak to her and do my best to never waste her time.

    In addition to this list of things that millennial mentees need from their mentors, I think there are other things that can be considered. As mentioned, I would like my mentor to be someone that I am able to have a personal connection with. I understand that some people might agree to keep it strictly business and to never burn bridges. However I also believe that getting to know someone on a personal level and giving conversations depth and meaning allows for better mentoring. In the research article, “Characteristics of Successful and Failed Mentoring Relationships: A Qualitative Study Across Two Academic Health Centers” the researchers interviewed different professors and the results showed that the most successful mentors where those with “mutual respect, clear expectations, personal connection, and shared values.” How can the mentee help the mentor figure out the balance between work and personal life if the mentor doesn’t have a personal connection with the mentee? The mentor must have a view of the whole picture in order to be of best help. I think that this is definitely a characteristic of a successful mentor.


    • I have a had a mentor throughout my college career here at GSU. I would say his views are a little more traditional and he is in academics, versus I am more on the millennial point of view in mentorship and I am leaning into medicine. We’re both science related and he is greatly experienced in terms of academia with science but he is not an actual physician. Therefore his point of view is limited. So our relationship may not be mutualistic all the time but when it is I can give valuable information on what’s changing in terms of medical school acceptances. Overall, having a mentor who is in the exact field and is willing to mentor is priceless and rare. Luckily you have found a mentor like that. I am also an introvert and reserved but I do see ka mentor who is a physician and similar to me so I can have the best guidance in my career.

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