Mentoring Generation Z

Guiding them through the buffet of life, one plate at a time.

By Jon Salmen

Imagine you’re at a buffet with all the food you could possibly want. (Maybe it’s like the ones in Las Vegas that are a literal smorgasbord, open until the sun comes back up again.) What are you going to put on your plate? Are you going to try everything? Will you be paralyzed with choice overload and get nothing? This metaphor displays how Generation Z craves mentorship, and why now is the time they need it most.

Generation Z gets called apathetic (paralyzed by all the food options), idealistic (thinking they can eat it all), and entitled (as if they own the buffet). To me, that is just evidence of a learning curve. If cleaning our plate (clean-plate club, anyone?) is the #1 goal, then a mentor simply helps you pick out what you actually need and holds you accountable to finishing it. A good mentor often knows exactly where to start—they’ve been to this buffet before.

Once you’ve mastered the basics (see “Are You My Mentor?” by Callie Verderosa), it can also be important to know some specifics about the generation you’re mentoring. For Generation Z, there are three things you should know:

1. Apathy may arise from Gen Z for one major reason: constant access and exposure to, well, everything. A 24/7 negative news cycle that feels like it heightens concerns about global issues and domestic politics (and the sharp focus on mass shootings and mental health disparities) can be overwhelming. We sometimes swing wildly from activism to apathy. The expectations that surround us can make us feel so inadequate that the only way to get through it is to stop caring. A good mentor will try to understand where this apathy is coming from and help us live in the unfiltered, gray area. It’s a scary realization when you find out you can’t control your real life in the same way you regulate your digital life. Having someone to guide us through the balance between total control and total lack of interest can help us develop in a more realistic, well-rounded way.

2. This absurd, perfect reality we push on our social media has primed us to be idealistic. Just like we exaggerate and edit our pictures, Generation Z wants to filter out all the negative in the world. However, unlike our social media pages, we don’t own the world. We don’t get to play God outside of our own social platforms, but we might try. We need mentors who can help us understand that the world isn’t black and white. Sometimes good people do bad things, and bad people do good things. And is there really such a thing as 100% good and 100% bad people? We need mentors who will teach us how to work within the reality we have, not always the one we want to force into existence.

3. Entitlement exists within Gen Z, but it might be different than it exists for Millennials. We don’t necessarily suffer from being told we’re special or that we deserve more for no reason, but, as consumers, we are no less than royalty, and we may expect it from everyone. Amazon Prime delivers in two days (and Amazon Prime Now almost immediately), customer service responds within 24-hours, and our chat platforms update in real time. With all of this immediacy surrounding us, we expect immediacy. A great mentor for us will help us appreciate a slower pace and all that can be learned from spending some good, old-fashioned time on a project, relationship, or experience.

A mentor doesn’t allow you to give up or give in, rather, they challenge you to give more. And likewise, it is the mentee’s job to be persistent and challenging—something Generation Z shouldn’t have a problem with. Our goals are lofty, including finding solutions to climate change, political reform, renewable energy, infrastructure, cyber security, education reform, deforestation, and sustainability in agriculture. We’re ready to challenge the status quo, but it seems we’ve created our own metaphorical buffet and may be feeling unsure about how to tackle it.

Mentorship is two parts: someone who is lost AND someone who’s been there and made it out. Sometimes (many times) we are both of these people.

Organization and conventional wisdom can go a long way with Generation Z. A mentor knows that the only way to get through the whole buffet is to take it easy, one plate at a time. The next time you see a young person stalled on a project or procrastinating their work, pay it forward, share your advice, and take them under your wing. They’re hungry for it.

Jon Salmen is a student at the University of Louisville and a Business Development Innovation Manager for FocalPoint Coaching and Training Excellence of Kentucky. He is a student of philosophy and a huge fan of mentorship (particularly for Generation Z, of which he is a part). To get ahold of Jon, send him an email at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *