How to Find a Good Design Mentor

Zac Halbert
5 min readJan 17, 2024

Long-term mentorship is an incredibly valuable tool to help you grow as a designer. Designers grow through feedback, and a mentor has the ability to give you the highest quality feedback available. They get to know your strengths, growth opportunities, goals, and history, which gives them a unique ability to provide effective guidance. This will be much higher quality advice than ChatGPT can give you. (For now, anyway…)

Choosing a Good Mentor FOR YOU

While there are some qualities that are universally applicable, it’s important to pick the right mentor for you specifically. Here are some things to consider when picking a mentor. Think of these as non-comprehensive list of rough guidelines only.

  • Personality Fit — This should go without saying, but find someone you actually like and want to spend time talking to. If you do not have compatible personalities or communication styles, then don’t try to force it. Just keep looking until you find someone that you really like.
  • Culture Fit — Find someone who understands the challenges and privileges you’re likely to face. We all experience these based on our socio-economic backgrounds, gender, race, nationality, etc. Find a mentor who understands what you’re likely to experience so that they can more intelligently help you navigate it.
  • Radical Acceptance — It’s important to find a mentor willing to practice radical acceptance and won’t ridicule you for making the sort of early-career mistakes they almost certainly made themselves. You need to feel enough psychological safety to honestly communicate your mistakes and challenges.
  • Career Emulation — Find a mentor whose career you want to emulate. Their advice and personal stories will be much more applicable for you. You can also ask them about their day to day so you can be sure you actually DO want to emulate their careers.
  • Domain Expertise — Your mentor doesn’t necessarily have to be a designer. Some of my best mentors have been product managers, who have taught me a lot about how to approach design from a product perspective.
  • Relevant Experience — My first design job was as a web designer in the year 2000. If you’re 2 years into your career, my advice isn’t going to be as relevant to you as someone who is 3–5 years ahead of you and recently solved some of the struggles you’re currently experiencing. I barely remember what my first job was like, and very little of it is relevant to the world we’re currently living in.
  • Adequate Distance — Your boss should not be your only mentor. While they can be a mentor, they hold the keys to your future, which creates an imbalanced power dynamic. That’s not to say you can’t have a great mentorship relationship with a boss, but it’s a little too complex for them to be your only source for guidance.

Where to find a mentor?

There are a lot of places to find mentors with a little creativity.

First, try your own network. Think of people you’ve worked with in the past, or people you’ve admired from afar. Ask work colleagues for anyone they might know. Think about people whose work you look up to, or articles they’ve written that have helped you.

There are many sites that list mentors who are available. Most, if not all of these, are free or volunteer based. There are probably others. Leave a comment if you’d like something else included.

How to approach a mentor

Once you have a good idea of the type of mentor you’re looking for, and have found one you want to reach out to, you’re ready to approach them.

If you’re picking a mentor from one of the sites listed above, you probably only need to book time on their calendars.

If you’re approaching a potential mentor the old-fashioned way, I’d recommend asking them for at least a single session first to do a vibe-check before you broach the subject of a long-term relationship.

Here’s an example of what you might say. Obviously, replace the content in parentheses with your own words:

Hi, (human)!

I am (a mid-career UX designer) trying to figure out how to get promoted to (a senior-level position). I loved (your article about selling design to stakeholders), which resonated with me because (this is a huge growth area for me).

I was wondering if you’d be open to (a quick zoom chat) so I can (pick your brain about applying your advice to my specific situation). I would be grateful for your time and expertise.

If so, let me know a few times that are convenient for you and I’ll send you an invite.

Thank you!
- (human)

There are a few things that this note is doing.

  • It’s short and to-the-point
  • It identifies some specific areas of expertise that you noticed, which indicates…
  • That you have done some research and are likely to be prepared
  • Asks them for something they are uniquely able to provide, which is also a low commitment
  • Makes it easy for them to take the next step

Making it Official

Once you’ve had a session with a mentor that you feel you would like to build a long term relationship with, I would highly recommend having a conversation to make it official.

It doesn’t have to be a major deal, but you should clearly state what you want, and ask the mentor what works for them. You should also ask about any expectations the mentor has. Some common things you might talk about:

  • How often and what times work for a regular meeting
  • What level of preparation would be helpful
  • What level of follow up would your mentor appreciate
  • Any topics that the mentor is more or less excited to discuss on an ongoing basis

Invest in the Relationship

Once you have established an ongoing relationship, it’s imperative that you continue to invest in it. If you do, you will receive immeasurable benefits over the course of your career.

I’ve written a follow up article with some specific advice about the best way to forge a stronger mentor/mentee relationship. I’d recommend giving it a read to ensure your mentor continues to feel excited about being your mentor.

Originally published at https://www.zachalbert.com.

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