If you’re searching for an internship, or if you are lucky enough to have one already, get the most out of your experience by finding a mentor. Whether you’re testing out a career or getting real-world experience in your chosen field, a workplace mentor can help ensure that your internship is a success.
A mentor is a guide or coach who will advise and assist you during your internship. She will probably not be your supervisor, but she could be someone in your work area, a Human Resources representative, or even the CEO of your company.
If you are part of an internship program at your school, your teachers should be able to guide you and help you find a strong mentor at your workplace.
If you found your internship on your own, be sure to ask about mentorship opportunities during the interview. Organizations know how valuable a mentoring relationship is for new employees, and that should extend to interns. Hopefully, the internship will have a formal process to pair you with a well-matched leader in the organization.
If your teachers or potential employers ask you about the qualities you seek in a mentor, be able to articulate what those are. Do you prefer to be mentored by a powerful CEO, who might have more connections but less time than other employees? Do you prefer someone whose position is very focused, or someone who may have to juggle many responsibilities across departments? Do you prefer someone who has been at that place of employment for many years, or someone who may have experience and connections at multiple institutions?
Some internships may not directly pair you with a mentor, but rather provide advice for finding one, informally. If this is the case, you might try to schedule meetings with several people at the company where you’re interning; offer to meet them for coffee or lunch, and ask them about their path to their current position. Some people are natural mentors, offering advice, recommendations, and guidance without being asked. It behooves you to try and identify those people; the only way to do this is to talk to as many people as you can.
Once you’ve been matched with your mentor, schedule a meeting with her. If you’re open and honest with your mentor, chances are she will be with you, too. Just as you should be respectful of your mentor and your mentor’s time, she should respect you and your goals. Your mentor is not there to assign you unnecessary tasks, but rather to help you build on your work in a meaningful, beneficial way, and to facilitate introductions to people who can further your career goals and connect you to other influential individuals.
The mentor you have during your internship should help you overcome any obstacles that may keep you from having the most beneficial experience possible.
Your mentor is there to answer your questions. Sometimes you may have questions that you don’t want to ask your supervisor or colleagues. Your mentor is the one who will give you answers or point you in the right direction.
Your mentor will help you deal with workplace problems. She can help you sort out misunderstandings that might occur between you and your supervisor or colleagues, or help you understand the scope of your duties and how you can meaningfully go above and beyond your requisite tasks. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, she can help ensure that the work you’re being given challenges you and makes the most of your individual skills, while managing your work expectations. It’s true that, as an intern, you may have to complete some tedious or menial tasks, but that shouldn’t be the only work you do.
In case your supervisor forgets to invite you to a training session or meeting, your mentor can double-check the invite list and see that your name is on it, if she’s in the same or a related department.
Ideally, your mentor will help you see the “big picture" of your internship beyond your day-to-day tasks. She will help you identify what you want to get out of your internship — and then help you realize your goals.
According to Thomas Friedman (by way of Gallup), only 22 percent of college students have had mentors. Don’t let yourself be counted in that statistic; find the right mentor to help advance your career.