How to Make the Most Out of Your Mentor/Mentee Relationship

Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to be mentored by several skilled professionals (both designers and non-designers), and whether we were officially assigned to work together as a part of a mentorship program or we were co-workers—each relationship has been extremely rewarding. Each mentor has helped me in their own unique way from giving advice, critiquing my work, writing letters of recommendation, or even just being a person there to listen. Having someone in your corner rooting for your success and helping you along the way is an incredible opportunity that can really help you grow not only as a designer, but as a leader and a professional. 

With that said, making the most of the time you have together is essential. Jobs and new opportunities come and go, internships end, mentorship programs come to a close, and people get busy and have to shift their priorities. So how can you make the most out of your relationship with your mentor? In my experience, this is what worked for me to make the most of my mentee experience: 

    1. Show up. This probably seems obvious, but in order to make the most of your meetings with your mentor, you have to show up. Life is busy for everyone, but if you set up a time to meet with someone (in person or virtually) make sure you honor that commitment to the best of your ability—add it to your calendar, set reminders, and do whatever you need to be there.  If something comes up and you need to reschedule, just make sure you let your mentor know as soon as you can! We all have unexpected things come up in our schedules from time to time, but being a complete no-show isn’t fun for anyone.


    1. Be open. When working with your mentor, they might make recommendations or suggestions that you may or may not 100% agree with, and that’s okay. But you should always be willing to listen and be as open as you can to suggestions. Being able to accept and listen to feedback, even when it’s critical, will only make you a better designer. You might not take every recommendation that is given to you and apply it, but having the willingness to be open and hear what others think when it comes to your work will only help you in the long run.


    1. Take notes and ask questions. Another seemingly obvious one, but make sure you ask questions! Especially follow-up questions if you’re looking for more clarity. Talking to someone who might essentially be a complete stranger can be a little awkward or intimidating at first, but they’re there to help, so don’t be shy—ask away! Coming up with a few questions to ask prior to your meeting can also be helpful if you’re nervous, but don’t be afraid to build on them and ask follow-up questions based on what they shared with you. Also, they might provide resources to you—people to follow, blogs to read, or companies to look into—so make sure you have a pen and paper handy to write it all down. Taking notes, from resources to general advice, can help you better retain the information and remember things later on.  These are also great topics to bring up in  your future discussions together!


    1. Show gratitude. I’m a big believer in vocalizing gratitude early and often in my daily life, but it has also become extremely important in my professional career. Thanking people for their time is essential—even if it’s just a simple email. Your mentor is a professional designer who may also have other employees they need to help, a family to take care of, or other activities or obligations that they need to attend to in addition to taking time out of their day to meet with you—so thanking them for their time is definitely a kind gesture. A small thank you after your first and last meeting can go a long way—even if it’s just an email.


    1. Stay connected. Now more than ever, it’s very easy to stay connected with people in your professional network—so make sure to keep your mentor’s contact information and connect with them on LinkedIn! I’ve reached out to many previous mentors for career advice and job references and even though I didn’t work with them anymore (or it had been a few years since we worked together), they were still ready and willing to help me with whatever I needed. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed—these connections can last a lifetime over the course of your career.


Your design career will have many twists and turns. You will be faced with tough decisions, tight deadlines, tough interviews, and maybe even some career path changes. But having a mentor can make some of these things a bit easier to navigate. If you are lucky, you will have many mentors over the course of your career—maybe even some that you didn’t realize were mentors until years later. So soak up every conversation and learn as much as you can because you never know where that mentor/mentee relationship will take you.

By Ashton Spann
Published December 7, 2020
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