Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

5 Tips for Finding Your Mentor at Any Age

Michael D Brown/

The other day I had lunch with a young woman who interned with my company a few years ago and now works for a large educational institution. Our conversation ran the gamut: observations on organizational restructuring, ruminations on how technology is changing the way we work and discussions on the merits of seeking a second advanced degree.

About midway through the lunch, it hit me: I’m learning as much in this conversation as Samantha is. We were a real-life example of reverse mentoring, which places a younger professional in the role of mentoring a more experienced colleague. Four years ago my relationship with Samantha started with me in the role of sage, imparting words of wisdom to a new college graduate; now our relationship has evolved to the point where she’s teaching me as well.

When reverse mentoring got its start, it typically revolved around a technology need: a tech-savvy millennial showing 50-something executives the ropes in how to navigate a new technology. As the idea of younger professionals mentoring more seasoned colleagues has gained popularity, more companies are now expanding the concept beyond learning the latest digital tool.

Companies such as Hartford Insurance Co. have reverse mentoring programs, with positive results. In one company that implemented reverse mentoring, 80 percent of the participants rated the project "extremely effective" or "effective" for business practices and 97 percent rated it "extremely effective" or "effective" for their personal and professional growth.

The wonderful thing about reverse mentoring is that it creates yet another avenue for communication across any number of potential boundaries: age, experience, job title. Here’s how you can make the most of mentoring in reverse, whether you are starting out in your career, or have logged many miles in the world of work.

The millennial generation is accustomed to group projects and making contributions from the moment they join a company. Reverse mentoring offers many benefits to younger people in the workforce, including:

  • Face time with more seasoned employees who might someday act as their sponsor
  • A chance to make a tangible difference in a colleague’s life
  • Reciprocal mentoring from the veteran co-worker they’re mentoring

Experienced colleagues, whether they’re in management roles or are senior-level peers to young workers, can also benefit from reverse mentoring. Many who have taken advantage of advice from younger workers have reported:

  • Stronger communication between the generations
  • Better understanding of how younger workers perceive important business issues
  • Improved comfort with newer technologies

Here are five tips for finding your mentor:

  1. Recognize that mentors come in all forms. They may be older, younger or the same age as you. They may or may not play a formal leadership role in your company.
  2. It’s up to you to find a mentor. Even if your organization has a formal mentoring program, you can still foster important relationships outside the program boundaries. In fact, I strongly encourage you to step up and take charge of building mentoring relationships. You are your own best advocate.
  3. Give both parties an easy out. When you make the request, offer to do a trial run meeting so that neither party feels obligated if the fit doesn’t seem right.
  4. Make it easy to be your mentor. Do all the scheduling and advance leg work. Be willing to meet when it’s convenient for your mentor. If the meeting entails a meal, foot the bill.
  5. Realize that sometimes the chemistry just isn’t there. If, after a few meetings, it is obvious that you and your mentor aren’t clicking, then it’s best to diplomatically wrap up the mentoring relationship. Remember, mentoring doesn’t have to be a lifetime commitment. It’s better to part while the relationship is on solid footing than to drag things out.

Nearly everyone with a strong work ethic, competence in their job and the desire to help others has something to offer their colleagues. No longer the purview of just the “wise elder,” mentoring is now an excellent way for employees of all experience levels to contribute to the professional development of their colleagues.

Jennifer V. Miller is a writer and leadership development consultant. Follow her on LinkedIn and her website The People Equation, where this article originally appeared.

(Image via Michael D Brown/

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.