Mentoring 101: Why giving back is important to keep skills and careers vibrant

Being a mentor can help you re-engage with your skills and find a new sense of direction or purpose.

Mentoring Adobe Stock / tashatuvango.

by Andrew Smyk

posted on 05-31-2018

Why be a mentor? Not only is it important to give back, but it feels good to do it. A mentoring relationship is filled with learning opportunities for both mentor and mentee.Yes, it does take time and requires a high level of commitment when you’re starting out. However, the benefits of helping someone by sharing your knowledge and experiences greatly outweigh the effort it takes. Being a mentor can help you re-engage with your skills and find a new sense of direction or purpose. You can also learn through teaching; being asked questions by the mentee requires the mentor to effectively communicate concepts and knowledge so they can comprehend and use them.

Learn from others

One of the benefits of mentoring is that learning happens for both parties involved. The mentee benefits from your willingness to share your experience and knowledge in an informal, conversational setting. The mentor benefits from learning how the mentee approaches the same problems or situations to find a solution or outcome. The two-way exchange of ideas and knowledge provides different perspectives and facilitates a sharing of knowledge and ideas.

How you will interact with the mentee will depend on the experience gap between the two of you, and the differences between your levels of knowledge and expertise.

Guide

Mentors should let mentees take the conversational lead. The mentor is there to listen and to provide guidance on career and professional development topics. The initial conversation can help establish realistic expectations and identify the type of guidance and assistance that will be most helpful for the mentee.

It is important for the mentee to know what the job opportunities are when entering a new field or career, and mentees appreciate both personal advice from their mentors and introductions to other people in the industry so they can arrange further informational interviews. Having a series of conversations can help the mentee figure out what kind of UX position is right for them.

Mentoring is not managing

When someone is beginning a new job or entering a new career path, a mentor can help navigate the mentee around the potential pitfalls of office politics. One of the most helpful things to talk about with mentees is how to approach their manager to ask for help or feedback on their job performance.

A mentor provides constructive feedback and support. They are not there to direct or manage the mentee’s role on a project. The conversation should be facilitative and provide the necessary support in an empathic setting. Remember that we all started our careers in roughly the same place, and it’s important to help mentees navigate the industry and assess the pros and cons of their career decisions.

An important part of mentoring is helping the mentee further develop their current skills and gain new competencies. Mentors can give friendly challenges to their mentees that should be completed between meetings. You may want the mentee to design an onboarding user flow or login screens using a design tool they are unfamiliar with or have little experience. Challenges should be fun and give both parties the opportunity to learn and grow.

Mentoring can also include helping someone by creating opportunities for them to gain confidence and experience in public speaking at industry events and conferences. Mentees will often find innovative solutions for their projects, and mentors can suggest that they raise their industry profile by writing a blog post or sharing their project at a meetup. We all know that crafting a public profile has long-term benefits in terms of networking and job prospects. Think about how you can leverage your network to increase the overall benefit of the mentoring experience to the mentee.

Maintain the relationship

Communicating between the mentor and mentee should remain informal. This will ensure that communication does not become rigid or hierarchical. The mentor should be approachable and supportive, keeping conversations light, yet informative.

Schedule regular check-ins. These can be quick conversations via video conferencing, or consist of the mentor’s answering questions that the mentee asks by email or posts on social media. The idea is to remain in regular contact and to create an avenue for providing constructive feedback or guidance when necessary. Having coffee together routinely before/at industry events creates a schedule and purpose for face-to-face meetings that can be more efficient than asynchronous electronic communication, and develop a collegial relationship in a natural way.

The benefits of mentoring are long-lasting, and the relationship can also be sustained through changes of jobs and cities. One way to begin a mentoring relationship is simply asking someone to be your mentor or stating that you wish to be a mentor. You can also tap into local networking resources. Attending a local UX Meetup is a good place to start, or you might look into more formal initiatives like the IAI Mentoring Matching, and regional UX groups like the NYCUXPA can also help you find a mentor or become one. If you are interested in setting up a mentoring program in your city, the IxDA Sydney has a great set of resources including mentor and mentee guidebooks.

Mentoring is more like passing the baton as part of a relay team than running a marathon solo. An instructor-student relationship can naturally evolve into a mentor-mentee relationship and later into a collegial one. Mentors can be role models for their mentees, who will be more likely to become mentors themselves in turn if they’ve benefitted from a mentoring relationship. I have found that is always great to catch up with my former students who share their experiences with me. I bring alumni of my program into the classroom to share their experiences and knowledge with the current cohort of students. They are happy to share their insights into their successes and failures, and to give students advice about working with stakeholders and what to consider when entering into the field.

Topics: Future of Work, Career Advice

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