Choosing a professional mentor can be one of the most impactful decisions you’ll make in your career, but it can also be one of the most difficult. In a lot of ways, finding a mentor is like choosing a new home — there are a ton of factors that should go into your decision process, you’ll probably evaluate a lot of different options before finding the perfect fit, and making the right decision can have a pretty strong impact on your life. Whether you want to find an online mentor or an in-person mentor, there’s a lot to think about.
Like finding a new home, it’s also important to remember that the more time you spend figuring out what traits in a mentor are most important for you, the more quickly you’ll be able to find someone who is the perfect fit to help you achieve your creative goals. However, unlike finding a new home, choosing the wrong mentor can also be a huge waste of time to your mentor. So let’s look at a few of the qualities you should be evaluating when looking for a mentor, so that when you find your mentor you’ll be set up for success.
What are your mentorship goals?
One of the first things you should consider when thinking about your ideal mentor is pretty simple: what do you want to get out of it? Are you very early in your creative career and want a mentor to help you learn the concepts and technical skills you’ll need to progress, or are you a bit more settled and are looking for someone to help you plan your next 5 years? Write down a list of your 3-5 top goals before reaching out to any potential mentors. A few main goals could be:
- Find a new job or figure out your career path
- Get feedback on your recent work or portfolio
- Master technical skills or understand basic design concepts
- Improve your portfolio and prep for interviews
- Learn from someone on-the-job via apprenticeship
- Understand a new industry / career path
- Learn about freelancing and how you can transition to a full-time freelancer
- Share frustration and get advice for moving past issues at work
After figuring out your main goals, you’ll want to decide what seniority you want your mentor to have in their industry. Depending on where you are in your career and what you want to achieve, a more junior mentor might be more beneficial than a more senior mentor.
- Junior Mentors – If you’re just getting started in your career and are looking to improve your basic skillset, understand design concepts and fundamentals better, or understand the best way to get your foot in the door, a mentor with just a few years of experience might be perfect.
- Mid-level Mentors – If you’ve been working as a creative for a short amount of time or are graduating from design school and want to find a mentor who can guide you through your first few years on the job, a more mid-level mentor might be ideal. Someone who was in your shoes a few years ago and can help you navigate the potential pitfalls young designers make early in their careers. A mid-level mentor might also be perfect if you’re looking to move into freelancing or launch your own creative business, as they’ve likely had to work very hard to build their own independent careers and can help with lesser-known tricks and strategies.
- Senior Mentors – If you’ve been working in the field for more than a few years and are looking to get to the next level, you should likely try to find a senior mentor with 10+ years experience in the industry. Similarly, if you’re a younger creative looking for someone who has extensive experience reviewing portfolios and doing interviews, speaking with a senior mentor as you get ready to look for jobs could be hugely impactful.
Finding a mentor in your industry, or the industry you want to enter, is one of the most important things to think about. Figure out what type of career you’re interested in and structure your mentor search around that.
- Freelancing – Finding freelance design mentors might seem daunting since they don’t work for a single company and therefore are a bit harder to track down, but luckily, Twitter is an amazing tool for finding freelancers around the world.
- Agency – If you want to work for a design agency or studio, check out resources like Biddlist for lists of the top agencies. Find an agency whose work you like and reach out to a few employees there!
- In-house – You might want to work in-house for the design team at a larger brand or company. For more traditional companies, LinkedIn is the golden standard for finding employees by company name and job title.
- Startups – If you’re trying to get into the startup game, check out sites like Angel where you can filter and search by industry and then find employees who work there.
One of the most important similarities you and your mentor should have is a common background. Finding someone who has been in your exact shoes before and already gone through the process of launching their career is tantamount to having a super power. They’ve already made mistakes and can help ensure you don’t make the same ones. A few things to look for in terms of mentor background:
- Did they switch industries? If you’re trying to switch into a totally new industry, finding someone who understands how to get their foot in the door can be hugely beneficial
- Did they previously work in the same industry as you? If so, they probably know how to position your existing skillset to help you get a job and they can help you figure out which of your existing skills will be most beneficial in your new career
- Did you go to the same school? If you went to the same school, they likely know at least a few folks in their field who also went to your school. As antiquated as the college network can feel in the modern world, it is still useful since people love social proof.
Depending on what industry you’re trying to break into, location can be a very important factor to consider. Think about your goals and decide whether you need an in-person mentor or whether a digital relationship is enough!
- Mentors who live in your city: There’s no denying that finding a mentor who lives near you makes things a lot easier. Not only is it easier to feel connected to your mentor when you actually see them in person, but they’re also more likely to have connections to companies and other professionals in your city, which is important if you’re looking for a full-time job
- Remote mentors: The benefits of remote mentors are also pretty strong. It’s generally easier and less burdensome for a mentor to dial into a quick video that than it is for them to meet for coffee for an hour. Additionally, if you’re looking for a remote or freelancing job, having a mentor in your city isn’t necessary at all.
How do you actually find your mentor?
After narrowing down your criteria for the perfect mentor, what next? Luckily there are a huge number of ways to find your mentor, whether you want an in-person mentor in your city or are looking for a digital mentor. At a high-level, here are the best ways to find your mentor:
- First of all, leverage your networks! Look on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and every other network you have to find people already working in the roles and companies that you’d kill to work for.
- Go to meetups in your city and become an active contributor in the creative community around you.
- Apply to mentorship programs like those organized by AIGA.
- Engage in online communities. Check out groups like The Designers League, which have very active communities of amazing designers around the world.
- Post your work on dribbble and Behance
- Follow designers you like on Twitter and Instagram and engage with them. After a while, shoot them a private note to ask if they’d be open to a quick Skype chat.
- Check out online mentorship platforms like RookieUp, where you can easily set up video mentor sessions with a community of experienced designers.
So now write down your goals based on the criteria above. After that, if you’re looking for more detailed tips on the best way to find your mentor, check out this article on finding a mentor! Then get out there and start testing the mentorship waters. It can be a lot of work, but we promise that the benefits are worth it.
Find the perfect mentor to help you accomplish your goals, whatever they may be!
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