Mentoring Designers (and myself)

Sneak peek at my personal approach, principles + printable guide to check professional growth

Last year I restarted my mentoring activity to get closer to the Ukrainian design community, network with talented people, discuss the job market with professionals, and energize myself because I really love talking. Overall I’ve met over 50 designers.

Mentorship is particularly interesting with designers. Designers have extreme “déformation professionnelle” that affects their lives. It's hard to switch off. But this connection is often the source of creative solutions. To become a strong designer, you need to be in excellent tune with yourself. Know your limit, accept the imperfections of the world, and take care of your mental health and worldview.

But after all, every designer I talk with have very common problems:

  • design education doesn’t help to land a job;

  • design is not fairly valued in companies;

  • designers can’t start/finish their portfolios;

  • designers are confused about how to get a raise.

Today I’m going to open about my mentorship principles. It might inspire you to start your own sessions or to ask someone’s help. Consider subscribing for my future letters (I’m a very occasional publisher):

While thinking about starting mentorship can be exciting, this time, I really dedicated myself to properly set ground rules and core principles to make it a breeze for me and my mentees.

Mentorship is 100% free

I don't want to have a commercial relationship with mentees, although I don't judge commercial mentorship as an approach. It’s my choice. Any monetary rewards I receive from mentoring are unlikely to outweigh my professional salary, and I don’t want to get distracted by the payment issues. The only "commercial" outcome from mentoring might be gifting (which is a completely optional way of saying “thank you”) or future collaboration on some project (which is a pretty common consequence of any networking activity). I’m not expecting any of those, but I don’t deny receiving praises in any form.

Mentorship without advice

I don't say "do this", or "act differently next time", or "quit your job and find new" or "stay here and be patient". I can't take responsibility for a person's life, and I don’t take any gram of the responsibility for other’s actions. I only have questions and personal experience in my toolbelt. Sometimes people really want a third-party validator who will say, "just do XYZ, and you'll always feel well", but such advice doesn't make any sense in someone else's life with someone else's feelings, and can limit life much more, than true mentor’s support. Mentorship is work for both sides; it won’t be a “private lecture”. The idea of mentoring is that it’s designed to receive “better” results from two-side commitment, not to limit someone’s responsibility.

Mentorship with responsibility

I give full control of the session plan to the mentee. It's a controversial thought, but I find that this action allows the mentee to see how their decisions affect their life. If you can take control of the session, you will have control over your salary range. I’m coming prepared to spend 60 minutes asking questions, sharing my cases, assessing the situation. Still, I will not deal with "the person does not feel energized today", "the person doesn’t know what to ask or talk about", "the person hasn’t prepared for the session", etc. The biggest value I can give is to come prepared, energized and on time, but it’s up to the person how they spend that hour. My task is to be present and to be helpful with their requests. But the requests should be articulated by the mentee; otherwise, it’s not about them, while it should be.

Needless to say, that the most responsible mentees got the biggest growth. And it’s also true that some relationship ended, and chemistry was dissolved.

Mentorship is personal

This comes from my previous point – it’s about them, not me. That’s why every meeting is different, and I can’t rely on my curriculum completely. It’s about a person’s feelings and perspectives at the moment. That’s why dropping some of the topics is absolutely fine, as well as adding new ones. Flexibility allows tailoring each mentorship session the most productive way, without getting “late on other topics”.

Strict selection

I’m a fan of finding people I’m comfortable with, and I use personal judgement to see if they need mentorship with me. Ironically, most of the people asking for mentorship are already well-prepared and proactive in terms of opportunities. My goal is to find people who might be great material for growth but lack tools, confidence or perspectives to grow independently. That’s why I decline 90% of requests and keep the people who can show relative growth in all areas during a 6-12 month period.

Mentorship with a curriculum

I have written a curriculum of 6 areas that consist of questions we rarely ask ourselves. Sometimes we spend 15 seconds answering them myself, but we don’t spend a 30-60 minute every day reflecting and answering. I’ve written and grouped the questions into categories, and I have a habit of reviewing them each month. I suggest diving into them in a session or on their own in a relaxed environment. No phones, no distractions, silence and boredom are really helping there.

I want to publish it so anyone could be their own mentor. I go through my own questions once a month. They help me get my focus back from product thinking to personal development. I recommend spending 30 minutes on each area on different days.

Mentorship formats

Mentoring can be performed at different scales: within a team, educational course, company, local market, or internationally. I am also searching for mentors and have spoken to more than 20 people in leadership positions worldwide. Mentoring is not the final form of a designer but an enriching (and completely optional) activity.

Mentorship benefits

When I'm a mentor, I get energy from talking, meeting talented and (potentially) prominent people. I believe it can lead me to have a professional relationship with my mentees; they can be my bosses or colleagues. I’m also preparing to be a great mentee.

When I am a mentee, I get new perspectives, an overview of the challenges in leadership roles, new data about team tools and compensations. They may also potentially be my bosses, or I may be theirs. I’m also learning to be a great mentor.

All the lessons and opinions above were possible thanks to my mentors and my mentees. I’m not even sure who learned more during these sessions: my mentees or myself!

What do you think about my approach? Do you think of mentorship differently? I would love to chat about your cases in the comments.

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