Up until now, much of my mentorship work has been in 1:1 sessions. One of my personal and professional goals for 2022 is to help more designers by sharing some of these insights publicly. Design mentors were incredibly helpful to me when I was starting out. Now that I’m on the other side, I’m excited to help others.
What is a design mentor?
Similar to becoming a designer, there’s no single path or certification process to becoming a design mentor. Traditional mentors help provide guidance and encouragement to designers with less experience.
I work with mentees both in single sessions and over time. A single session might be right, if you’ve found some traction with your portfolio and are looking for feedback from several mentors. Other designers prefer multiple sessions, especially if you haven’t quite identified specific career goals, and are in an exploration phase.
Design mentors can help:
- Explore new career areas to learn what’s working
- Identify strengths and opportunities for development
- Set desirable and achievable career goals
- Review portfolios to make sure strength align with those goals
- Practice interview techniques
- Learn new design and leadership skills
- Be accountable to someone else
- Communicate your personal professional mission
Do you need a mentor?
I know extremely talented designers who have mastered their craft through self-study by following tutorials, learning design methods, and reading as much as they can. But usually, independent exploration will only get you so far.
Designers need critique to take their work to the next level. Often in the hiring process, recruiters and hiring managers don’t have time to offer constructive feedback, or their company policy may prevent them from doing so.
Mentors can also increase psychological safety, as designers can have exploratory career conversations outside of their current employers.
What can I expect?
You should expect your mentor to listen to your goals and challenges while sharing their guidance. Just like any other meeting, it helps to come prepared with your portfolio, specific questions, and an open mind.
What can’t I expect?
Mentors won’t be able to make your design and career decisions for you. You will have to put in the work yourself to build your skills, learn new tools, and practice applying what you learn. You should think of the meeting as a conversation about your career goals and as a method for elevating your presentation. It’s not a job interview, and you shouldn’t come with that expectation, but it is a type of networking and occasionally mentors may offer to refer strong candidates to their network.
How should I choose the right mentor?
I would try and find mentors who are doing the kind of work you would like to be doing. Do you have experience in a particular industry, giving you a particular advantage? What do you have in common with your mentor? Does your mentor have the skills that you would like to learn? Do you have a similar professional or educational background? Do you need to live in a certain city or location? Do you have specific financial needs which may narrow your search to that type of company?