At the end of the Summer break last year, interns everywhere got getting ready to hang up their ties for another semester, unpack their Toms shoes and head back into the classroom. Meanwhile those of us whose offices have harboured these erstwhile workers were left with an odd sense of loss, like a longtime colleague has moved on or our favourite Moleskin is suddenly full and we don’t quite feel ready yet to crack open the spine of a new one.

Very poetic I know, but I had the very good fortune last year of getting to work with an intern who I can see now with a bit of hindsight, let me learn as much from her as I hope she learned from me. In truth, she reverse mentored the hell out of me!

Reverse mentoring, as the name suggests, allows for a (more) experienced individual to learn from a more junior colleague – like a classic mentoring relationship turned upside down. Most intentional reverse mentoring programs involve being ‘taught’ about social media, or next generation analytics, or how to do all of one’s work from one’s iPhone from the cloudy thing. In my case however I ended up with new perspectives, a heightened sense of purpose, and a feeling that no matter how far down the career road I am, my choices about ME, my development, my behaviour, my successes and how I choose to deal with my failures, still mean that every day can be just as exciting as it was at the start of my career. And just as scary!

Let me take you back a step, because I need to make it clear that this was not an intentional set-up. Our intern, for argument lets call her MC , just found herself sitting next to me by a wicked twist of fate, namely, that there were no other desks. For the first week or so she was quiet as a mouse, but clearly was up for getting totally stuck in during the short time she was to spend with us. When I reflected on one of the many conversations we had towards the end of our time as desk neighbours I realised what was going on… I was learning from her… not the other way around.

So what did I learn, or re-learn?

  • good grace and patience when someone is sharing their experiences with you goes A LONG WAY (thanks for humouring me MC),
  • no job is too big or too small, they just need different timeframes and tools to complete,
  • doing something very different one day to the next is exhilarating – an inquisitive and dedicated mind can ALWAYS get to grips with new content,
  • everyone has a different manner and approach. Whilst you might like some more than others, if you remain positive, professional and friendly to everyone eventually you will get it back in spades,
  • do not be afraid to ask questions, any questions, if they will help you do a better job,

These are just some of many ‘McNuggets’ (excuse the pun) I have found popping into my mind in the last few weeks since we became once again intern-less, but the fact that these keep popping up got me thinking about learning in general; learning journeys, stretch assignments, mentoring, sponsoring and all that other great stuff we know we need to cultivate in our working lives to continue to progress and develop.

When you are an intern you are fundamentally there to learn. It is an opportunity to try on all the knowledge you have been building and experiment with by delivering work in the real world (sorry students, academia is not the real world!). When you are an intern there is no such phrase as ‘that is not my job’ and let’s face it, I think we could ALL take that one on board a little more…

I had forgotten how to experiment at work, how to learn from everyone around me, not just the ones I thought would teach me the most. This has been a revelation for me and has encouraged me to recapture some of my old interests, polish off some of my old skills and find a new use for them in my new role, and think creatively about my impact beyond the linear relationship between myself and my manager.

So for this, MC, thanks! Hopefully one day another intern will pay it forwards for you.

Originally published at