Getting Started as a Mentor

Becoming a mentor can be one of the most rewarding career experiences and we encourage everyone to try it. However, there are some common myths that we sometimes use to convince ourselves otherwise. Let’s dispel these myths.

Myth 1: You don’t have enough experience

This myth goes hand-in-hand with imposter syndrome or the idea that you may reject your own accomplishments and feel like you’re a fraud. You may think you haven’t “made it” far enough to be a good mentor or to have something meaningful to teach. An example might be a designer with just a few years of experience, who doesn’t feel comfortable mentoring another designer. Even though you probably do have enough experience to be a mentor, if you’re not comfortable engaging in a traditional mentorship there are plenty of other options!

Here are some ways you can mentor others:

  • Try out a different model, like mutual mentorship—start up a conversation with a co-worker or someone at a meetup and talk about something new that’s happening in the field. This is a great way to ease into mentorship because it’s informal, yet at the same time intentional.
  • If you’re not ready to share with a peer, you can try mentoring somebody outside of your discipline. Find a developer or an art director and teach them about usability testing or prototyping. You might find it easier to mentor someone with less familiarity on a topic. Don’t forget to ask them to teach you something, too!
  • Finally, if you’re not up for engaging in mentorship directly with another person, you can try indirect mentorship. Write a blog post on your company’s site, for example.

Myth 2: You don’t have anything interesting to teach

One can interpret this myth as not having any skills to teach or thinking that everything you know is already common knowledge. You may get this feeling a lot when you’re reading articles and watching talks. It feels like it’s all been said before, so what could anyone have to add?

However, our discipline thrives when we share a diversity of perspectives—we value thinking about different ways of doing things. Exposing others to your techniques and ideas through the lens of your unique background helps us advance our discipline. Whether or not you think your experience is interesting, somebody else probably thinks it is. There’s something to learn from every project—good, bad, or ugly.

Here are some ways you can mentor others:

  • Tell a story about your last project at your next team meeting. Explain what went really well or really wrong and ask the team if they’ve had similar experiences or how they might have handled things differently.
  • Try explaining a new tool to a coworker. Maybe you’ve been using Sketch and your coworker, a long-time Photoshop designer, is looking to switch. Even though there are hundreds of tutorials online, you probably know some tips and tricks specific to your workplace that’s ten times more helpful than what’s online.
  • Try responding on Twitter to the author of an article you just read. We tweet regularly about articles we read and sometimes an interesting conversation is sparked, where everybody learns something new.

Keep in mind, we all have smart, interesting things to say, we just have to start saying them. You have a lot teach; you just have to start teaching.

Myth 3: You don’t have enough time to be a mentor

We’re all busy—not just with our jobs, but with our lives outside of work and everything in between. It can be difficult to justify putting more time into the UX community when you’re giving it 100% at work. But, through mentorship, you will find enriching and rewarding experiences. Mentorships are how lots of people get their first job; it’s how people learn new techniques, make new friends, and get inspired.

We’d go as far as to say that mentorship, when done right, isn’t an add-on to your life or career, it’s foundational to your life and career.

Here are some ways you can make time to be a mentor:

  • Set boundaries for your mentorship. In the Triangle UXPA program, we ask mentors to specify the number of hours they’re willing to commit a month, so mentees align with the availability of each mentor.
  • Mentor a co-worker at your office. Carving out some time at work might make it a little easier to jump into mentorship—even if it’s 30-minutes every other week or during lunch once a month.
  • Get mentorship added to your work responsibilities. Check with your supervisor to see if this is possible. Then during quarterly and annual reviews, the great work you’ve put in as a mentor can be recognized.