What interns should be asking for from their mentors

I recently finished up my third summer internship, making that three corresponding mentorship programs. Throughout the summers, as my career interests and goals changed, I was asking different questions and getting more out of the relationship with my mentors. Here are three things that I think interns should be talking to their mentors about in order to get the most out of the mentorship.

Interview Prep

Job interviews: arguably the worst necessary evil. Obviously, your mentor has passed at least one interview to get the job at his or her current company, so they know something about them. If you’re lucky, you might even get a mentor who actually interviews candidates for the company. If this is the case, take a meeting or two to ask about what he or she looks for in candidates and maybe even ask for a mock interview or two! If your mentor is not interview trained, you can still pick his or her brains for how to approach interviews and what questions to ask the interviewers. If you’re really itching for a mock interview, ask your mentor to ask a co-worker who is interview trained to help you out.

Job interviews are pretty much a black box at every company. So while you’re on the inside, take the chance to earn about how the process works so you can get every advantage possible.

Finances

Money is always a touchy subject, so don’t ask about salary or anything like that. However, definitely take the time to get some clarification on equity and retirement programs because those will become important real quickly after you graduate.

How many non-finance interns actually know what RSUs are? I barely knew what RSU stood for, let alone other things like vesting schedules, stock refreshes, and tax implications, which is why I took two meetings with my mentor to talk about RSUs vs. stock options and how vesting works. A lot that goes into managing your stock, such as whether or not to hold on to your company’s stock when it vests, and your mentor is (hopefully) managing his or her equity well and has tips to share with you.

Similarly, retirement programs are also often ignored by interns until they start working; 401(k) and IRA were honestly just numbers and letters to me. However, starting to save before 35 can earn you hundreds of thousands more by the time you retire. Different companies have different policies regarding 401(k) matching and other financial benefits like HSAs and FSAs, so it might be good to hear from a full-time employee about how to take advantage of those options.

The “Tough” Questions

Yes, I know, this is vague and not descriptive. What I’m going for is the kinds of questions you wouldn’t necessarily ask your manager. Here’s an example.

At my past internship, I had a female mentor. Around the time the whole Google memo thing was happening, I asked her about her experiences as a female at a tech company. She was gracious enough to share about her experiences, both at work and in college. For me, this question was just something that was on my mind, and hearing from a woman’s perspective had really helped me understand more of what I could do as a man in tech.

While my company was relatively open and transparent, I still would have felt a little bit uncomfortable asking my manager the same question (if he were a woman, that is), especially knowing that my manager writes my feedback. However, most mentors have no influence on your intern feedback, so, as long as you stay professional, I would encourage you to ask some tougher questions.

These questions are especially important if you are considering returning to the same company full time. Issues regarding diversity, performance reviews, switching teams/jobs, etc. will all come up once you start full time. Knowing how a company handles these issues can be a big factor in helping you decide whether you want to return or not.

Conclusion

Mentorship programs are a great way to provide interns with another familiar face around the office. Most interns (myself included) will feel an expectation of keeping the conversations technical and work-related. While there’s nothing wrong with asking about the problems your mentor is working on, you’d be leaving a lot on the table if that’s all you talked about. Take advantage of this resource and — respectfully — ask away.