How to find the right mentor as a junior designer

I see this mistake a lot when it comes to design mentorship program. Junior people all wants to talk to the most senior person in the room, but are oblivious of the fact that such approach will have a limited benefit to their career development. This is a mistake because contrary to your intuition, picking a less senior person as a mentor is probably the better choice.

Here is why it is not a good idea to find someone with 20 years of experiences as a mentor when you first started out:

Although they can offer you general direction for your career, they far too removed from what is was feel like when they first started.

I learned this the hard way after trying to offer advise to someone that was trying to get into UX. When faced with a situational question, I realized that I started to mix up what I did versus what I will probably do, my memory was fading away. After all, it was almost 8 years ago since I got into UX.

I certainly lost touch on how it was like as a junior designer. The struggle had now became a distanced memory. Though I can still offer reasonable advise, they certainly did not come from my best thought output. If my advises were a tool to be used in a battle, it would be a rusty dinner knife instead of a sharp Samurai sword.

My brain has been preoccupied by current matters. My skills sets has been transformed to serve the managerial role, such as how to manage a UX team, setting design directions, stakeholder managements…etc. Those are the things that I have been thinking, living and breathing everyday. Those are the things I am most qualified to talk about and can have meaningful contribution to the conversation for anyone wants to discuss on such matter, or is interested to grow into this role. Anything else, I am not best person to talk to.

To gain the most from your mentorship program, you should look for someone that is just one level above you, someone that has just done it, or is currently doing it. For example, if you want to get into UX with no design background, talk to junior designers that just landed their job. If you are a junior designer, seek mentorship from a Senior Designer instead of the Director of UX.

Seek out the “just made it” person if you want immediate actionable advice, and the seasoned veteran if you want general guiding principle for life. Don’t mix up the two, or you will be wasting your time and theirs. Hope this helps!

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Tim Chan

UX designer from Hong Kong. Obsessed about Micro-interactions and Product Design.