Mentoring Summer Interns, and Finding a New Mentor or Mentee

As we approach Summer in the Northern Hemisphere, your organization may be planning to bring on some interns for the season. Internships can provide incredible hands-on learning opportunities for young people looking to enter a field of work. The interns also bring value to the organization through their labor, their unique perspectives and lived experiences, and the insight into the organizational systems that comes when bringing in a seasonal worker. Too often, though, interns are treated as ‘free labor.’ Paid internships, which are associated with long-term wage premiums, are still unevenly distributed across race and class lines. Paying interns is a critical step in addressing economic inequality for marginalized and underrepresented groups.

Beyond paying your interns, I highly recommend reading a new Harvard Business Review article by Julia Freeland Fisher, which highlights the importance of helping interns build their networks. Your organization can have a significant impact on interns’ lives and careers; a large component of that is the level of support – and mentoring – you are able to provide during the time you have with them.

If you’re a regular reader of Building Bridges Leadership’s blog, you’ll have seen a number of posts on being part of a mentor/mentee relationship. Chances are you have been in a number of those relationships yourself – some formal, some informal. Some have changed your career; and in some, you have changed the career of others! And of course, mentoring isn’t limited to your own organization; many online and in-person resources exist to help you connect with mentors and mentees across organizations. So whether or not you will be working with interns in the coming months, let’s take a look at some tips for finding a new mentor/mentee relationship, and making it matter.

This week’s tips:

In situations where you’re a potential mentor:

  1. Find connection points with input from others: Managers within your organization should have a clear sense of their interns’/team members’ goals for growth. Ask others who might be a good fit for you to avoid traps of bias or mentoring someone just because they remind you of you.
  2. Be specific about the skills you can offer: Some skills may be discrete and concrete, while others may be transferable ‘soft’ skills. The latter may be a good fit for you, but maybe not for them. Focus on the former when discussing the skills you can offer; your mentee will pick up on the latter and implement them in ways that are a good fit for them.
  3. Help them to build their network: Be clear with them (and yourself) that your time with your mentee will be limited, and so is your value! Help them connect with others who can provide value that you can’t; make introductions where possible.

In situations where you’re a potential mentee:

  1. Find connection points with input from others: Ask some trusted colleagues or friends who they think might be a good fit for you for the skills you want to learn and the ways you’d like to grow in your career.
  2. Be specific about what you’re looking for from your mentor, while being open to something new: You may go into a mentoring relationship with very clear objectives (if so, great!). Be open also to new results that you hadn’t planned on – you might be surprised!
  3. Ask for help in building your network: Don’t be shy in asking for your next mentor! Who else could you speak to? Who else would be a good connection point for you?
  4. Show gratitude throughout: If you’re meeting for coffee, buy it for them. Say thank you after each time you meet. These small tokens to show your appreciation of their support make a big difference – not only for their work with you, but also in encouraging them to mentor others in the future.

Try these out this week, and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group! We’d love to hear from you.

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Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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