Deirdre Breakenridge

Five Ways to Prepare for Reverse Mentoring

By: Deirdre Breakenridge | August 9, 2017 | 
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Five Ways to Prepare for Reverse MentoringMentoring has changed throughout the years.

My first experience as a mentor dates back to the 1990s when relationships were more formal.

The mentor had years of experience and the mentee significantly less.

The learning was limited to the time you spent in person or on the phone.

There were no social media communities such as Facebook groups to jump into when you wanted to learn more about your profession.

Twitter chats didn’t exist, but professional and student communities such as #ContentChat, #TwitterSmarter, and #PRStudChat have scheduled tweet chats or answer questions on a daily basis through their hashtags.

Today, mentoring is everywhere because the classroom has expanded beyond the four walls of an educational institution.

But, what’s changed the most?

The ability to mentor and be mentored simultaneously as a result of social media and collaborative technology.

Reverse mentoring is not necessarily a new concept; it’s been around for a long time.

However, the scope of reverse mentoring has expanded as more professionals find collaborative ways to learn together.

Prepare for Reverse Mentoring

For me, reverse mentoring is one of the best ways to learn.

But, you have to be open to knowledge sharing especially from all of your colleagues, regardless of their years of experience.

Let me give you an example.

A couple of years ago, a PR student reached out to me with some questions about internships, interviewing tips, and securing a position after college.

I was happy to meet with her.

I went to our Starbucks mentoring session ready to answer her questions.

What I didn’t realize was the tables would turn very quickly.

About halfway through our discussion, I began asking my mentee about her experiences on Snapchat.

I wanted to know what Millennials thought of brands who were on the platform.

Was it annoying or did they like to interact with their favorite brands?

We also talked about Snapchat as a way for professors and professionals to interact with students.

I walked away with much more knowledge than I had anticipated.

In hindsight, I thought about how professionals could benefit more from reverse mentoring if they walked into the situation ready, and with the right mindset.

Here are five considerations to keep in mind so you can fully take advantage of the mentoring and reverse-mentoring process:

Put Your Ego and Years of Experience Aside

Realize before your meeting that whoever you’re mentoring has interesting and unique experiences based on who they are, and their experiences to date.

For example, my daughter is currently working for an agency in Long Island handling social media content for their clients.

It doesn’t matter how much time I’ve spent running a company or mentoring younger professionals.

I listen carefully to her thoughts on what people expect on Instagram and Snapchat.

I also pick her brain about some of the latest content development and curation tools.

My ego immediately gets checked at the door before.

Perk Up Your Ears and Listen Carefully

As a seasoned professional, you can’t just say this; you have to show you do the same.

Listening is a secret weapon to learning, regardless of who’s in your presence.

When you can step back and listen carefully, and you’re not so anxious to share your thoughts and opinions, you’ll get so much more from a conversation.

Not only is it an opportunity to learn, but it’s also an excellent way to build a relationship.

Realize that Feedback is a Gift

The gift comes in the form of positive comments, and, sometimes, helpful criticism.

Get ready to receive both.

Today, Millennials are becoming leaders in business.

It’s not about their age; it’s how they inspire and build trust with their constituents, just like any other leader.

If you look at your peers, clients, employees as just an age or number, then valuable feedback doesn’t get through.

I work with successful Millennial CEOs and executives who have reached leadership status before the age of 30.

Their teams don’t look at their age or the number of years in business.

They’re looking for inspiration, vision, and guidance to help them learn, grow and be successful, too.

Come Prepared with Questions You Would Like Answered

Think about your work or recent campaigns and how a younger perspective may help.

Do you have all of the answers you need?

Can you imagine if you prepared for a mentoring and reversed mentoring session as if it were a first job interview?

When you go to a job interview, you take the time to research the company and your interviewer.

Your questions are an opportunity to learn and then stand out.

The same goes with reverse mentoring.

If you do your due diligence, you’ll have targeted questions to gain new knowledge and ways to advance too.

Ask about New Apps, Platforms, and Communities

Find out what technologies your mentees are currently exploring.

You’d be surprised at what you can learn from asking this question.

When I was chatting with a younger colleague about Facebook advertising and how brands are finding it difficult to generate organic traffic, my colleague brought up Facebook Pixel Helper and remarketing.

The reverse mentoring process kicked in, and I immediately began taking notes.

You may find reverse mentoring just happens as you’re networking on social media, or even when you’re in person.

However, if you take the time to think ahead and ready yourself, the benefits from a mentoring and reverse mentoring session will be 10-fold.

About Deirdre Breakenridge


Deirdre Breakenridge is CEO of Pure Performance Communications. She is an international speaker and trainer, podcaster, LinkedIn Learning instructor and an adjunct professor and online instructor at UMASS at Amherst and Rutgers University. Her most recent book, Answers for Modern Communicators, A Business Guide to Communication, will be published by Routledge in October 2017.

  • Debbie Johnson

    “Listening is a secret weapon to learning, regardless of who’s in your presence.”

    Yes! I wish people would focus as much on listening as they do on what they have to say.

    • Yeah. Good point, Debbie.

    • Soooo agree Debbie. Listening is such a crucial part of communications, but an increasingly lost art.

    • Deirdre Breakenridge

      Amen, Debbie! I couldn’t agree more. Listening is a secret weapon that can be used with anyone and in every situation.

  • Great article, Deirdre.

    I very much like “…I also pick her brain about some of the latest content development and curation tools. My ego immediately gets checked at the door before.”

    So important to have a learning mindset. It’s not about the age or experience. It’s about our availability and openness to learning from every person we get in touch with.

    • Deirdre Breakenridge

      Thank you, Corina. Having professionals of all ages around us offers a jam packed learning experience every day (maybe even every moment). But, you definitely have to be open, present and recognize that experience is not based on a number. I’ve learned so much from professionals of all ages (present company included)!

  • Dawn Buford

    Listen and learn has been a lifelong motto for me. That is what helped me really learn, grow, and get good grades in college, which in turn, helped me all through my career. We can all learn something from one another regardless of age and experiences.

    • Deirdre Breakenridge

      Yes, listening and learning go hand in hand. The best part is that the classroom has extended and we have the opportunity to be listening and learning so much more. I’m thankful for social media and community listening and learning too.

  • This post is a clear case study in why you are so good at what you do.

    • Deirdre Breakenridge

      Thank you so much, Laura. I give credit to all of those mentors out there who have helped me over the years.

  • This is so true. I’m part of a mentorship program with my high school. It’s designed to provide soon-to-be-graduates and new graduates with a ready network of people who can share experiences and career path advice, but more often than not these experiences turn into mutual brainstorms. Talking to a new high school grad who is interested in writing, marketing or PR, forced me to look at the industry from a different perspective. What does this person bring to the table? What is it that I love about this industry? Why do they want to get into it? How has the industry changed since I entered the workforce? How will it be different for the new graduate?

    These discussions not only help provide the younger person with insight and a sense of what they can expect moving forward, but it also helps us get a renewed sense of what the industry landscape looks like, what it needs, and how it has changed. Great post!

    • Deirdre Breakenridge

      Mike, I absolutely love that your involved in a high school mentoring program. That’s wonderful to hear. Isn’t it amazing the different perspectives at all ages. Also, you make a great point about us getting a “renewed sense” of what the industry looks like, needs and how it’s changed. Growing smarter together by the moment. Thanks for sharing!

  • When I was writing the tweets to accompany this article, I made myself laugh. Even us old farts can learn a thing or two! xoxo

    • Deirdre Breakenridge

      HA! Speak for yourself 🙂 2018 marks my 30th year is this crazy, wonderful profession. I guess I’ve earned the title of “old fart.”

  • I really like this post for many reasons @deirdrebreakenridge:disqus. It relates to one of the mantras I try to live by: never stop learning and realizing that knowledge can come from any experience, individual and observation. One of my mentors shared with me a great point: focus on being “interested”, not “interesting”. Interested means asking questions and allowing others to share their knowledge, like you have described in this reverse mentoring role. Relying too much on being interesting is what many of us fall victim to: making sure we sound like the most entertaining and knowledgeable person in the room.

    I am reading a book right now called “Taking People with You” by David Novak, CEO of Yum Brands (company that owns Pizza Hut, KFC, Taco Bell, etc). He has has a whole chapter on why leadership requires being an avid learner. In summary, it is about going outside the norm to learn from others. He uses examples of leaders doing this by reaching out to other leaders outside their industry; a long established CEO leader who makes it a point to learn from interns and entry level employees; and even how basketball coach John Wooden – one of the best coaches of all time – would tap into the expertise of individuals who on paper were far less knowledgeable/successful than he was, but were sources of learning and inspiration. The mentor – mentee relationship you describe fits into this never stop learning approach.

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