Photo credit: Kobu Agency, Faro, Portugal
Let’s talk about finding a mentor.
According to Fortune’s Anne Fisher, the Human Resources department of Sun Microsystems analyzed 1,000 employees over five years and found: Employees who received mentoring were promoted FIVE times more often than people who didn’t have mentors1. In a separate study, Lisa Quast found that mentors were SIX times more likely to have been promoted to a bigger job2.
So it is a win-win situation.
As we advance our careers, finding a mentor is essential in helping us learn and build new skills. We can hope our mentors to point out untapped ways to learn new skills. Working with an external mentor other than people in your company also benefits us from finding a trusted confidant with an outsider’s perspective. Mentors can also help us to solve specific problems.
However, finding a mentor is not an easy task. It has to be a match.
-The mentor needs to have a career path that matches our career aspiration
Our industry has constantly been changing and growing. As a result, many UX practitioners come from different career paths. Initially, many UX designers came from visual design or graphic design backgrounds. However, with more schools and boot camps introducing UX as a focused study, some mid-level designers came straight from UX backgrounds. Therefore, finding a mentor with a similar career path can be beneficial. For example, they can help us with specific questions such as “How do I transition from visual design to Product Design?”
Another approach would be finding multiple mentors who can answer different questions.
-The mentor should not be too many steps ahead.
For example, the CEO of a company won’t be able to help a brand new first-time manager.
What does this mean for UX and Product Designers? If we look at the general career path in the industry, there are several levels of designers (based on an overly simplified view of their titles.) For an associate or Junior designer seeking a mentor, although any more senior designers can be a fit, the best fit might be seeking a Senior Designer as the mentor. Because they can mentor you more focused on day-to-day challenges, on hard skills progressing further as a designer.
-The mentor needs to be able to commit time to meet regularly
Mentorship is a commitment. It required regular meetings, whether it is weekly or monthly. Life situation also changes frequently; both the mentor and the mentee need to find the time and frequency that works for them.
Where to start
Many large enterprises have a mentor program. For designers, if the design team is larger than 20 people, you can establish a localized mentor program within the group. However, there are many benefits from seeking a mentor outside your organization. An external mentor can bring new perspectives, also provide a safe sounding board while removing any politics in the equation. In addition, they can bring in industry experience and objective opinions about the situation.
Several mentor platforms for UX and product designers are an excellent place to meet a mentor. For example, ADPList. You can search by expertise, levels, and geo-locations. However, these platforms were not designed to build in-depth mentor-mentee long-term relationships. Some design practitioners have established their coaching businesses. These are great opportunities to develop long-term relationships.
Mentor and mentee relationship is a relationship. You have to find out what works for both of you. It has to be a MATCH. Only stick with a relationship that works. It is the kind thing to do to end this relationship if you find out it is not working. Maybe it is not the right skill match, not the right level match, or just a time commitment difference.
Finding a mentor is rarely easy. However, as a person who has been in both roles, I can say it is beneficial. I’ve learned new skills, built long-lasting relationships, and expanded my professional network by being a mentor and mentee. So, whether you are a mentor or a mentee, it is worth the effort and time you put into it.
1 Anne Fisher, “Being a Mentor Could Boost Your Own Career,” CNN Money, March 13, 2007.
2 Lisa Quast, “How Becoming a Mentor Can Boost Your Career,” Forbes, October 31, 2011.