In the last few years, there has never been a time where I don’t particularly have 2-3 mentees or people I guide in their tech journey, and I love doing that. This year I volunteered my time on ADPList as a mentor to help young designers and those interested in career switch to tech, and the endeavor has seen me have over 70 sessions with over 60 individuals on the platform.
This experience has equipped me over time with different types of mentor and mentee relations someone could seek professionally. But what really spurs this write-up is something that happened at an event.
In July, I was invited by a founder of a foremost design school in Taipei, Taiwan (Reborn Academy), to speak about design. During the Q & A session after my presentation, an attendee said,
I have never had a mentor before, and I want to have one soon, but I would like to ask how do I become a good mentee to a mentor”.
This question caught me off guard, and I think I did justice to the question with my answer, but after the event, I kept wondering if there was a better response I could have given the attendee. The relationship between a mentor and a mentee is a two-directional relationship and being a good fit for each other is crucial just like in every other human relationship.
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In this article, I will highlight the different types of mentors a mentee needs, which will guide you on how to position yourself to take advantage of the mentee-mentor relationship. Whether you are a new or experienced designer or anyone in tech, we all need guidance, someone to illuminate the part for us, or give clarity around the things that are obscure to us in a professional setting.
Who is a Mentor?
There are a lot of ambiguities around who and what a mentor should be able to do for a mentee, but in my opinion, a mentor is simply a compass that guides you, and guidance can take any form or process.
A mentor is there to guide you and give clarity around some challenges you have professionally. They illuminate the path for you because they have been there or have a better understanding than you do. They use their experience to enlighten you on what to do or not to do in any circumstances you seek their advice or opinion on. But depending on the type of relationship both a mentor and a mentee have, a mentor can be willing to do more than just guide.
Five(5) Types of Mentors You Need
1. The Top-Level Managers
As someone looking to get a mentor, this type of top-level manager is your best reach in any organization regarding accessibility. It’s hard to access the C-Suite executives because of their busy schedules, e.g., Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Elumelu, etc. So, your top access is the top-level managers, who have immense experience and expertise in their craft.
These types of managers are very skilled and can spare some time in their schedule to mentor you. They can help you fast-track your learning process, but here is a tip, know what you want and be direct with your questions, don’t appear confused or delusional. Knowing what you want and being direct shows you’re confident and smart. This means that the mentor won’t be wasting their valuable time with you.
2. The Representation/Identity Mentor
This is my favorite mentor on this list; I advocate for representation/identity mentors because people trust someone with whom they share identities, similar backgrounds, and certain histories better. Many times during my mentorship sessions on ADPList, mentees have asked me to tell them about my background & how the journey started for me as a product designer.
This story is important because if a mentee resonates with it, it validates their own journey and clears any doubts about whether they are on the right path or belong in a particular field. Available data has shown that over 80 percent of people flourishing in various technology fields don’t come from tech-related disciplines.
3. The Peer Mentor
This is often overlooked, but you can learn a lot from your peers in many ways. People underestimate the value of peer mentorship. You’ll grow faster when you learn with your peers, especially if you don’t have access to senior mentors. If there is one thing I know, we all have different levels of understanding, and what person A finds easy can be hard for person B and vice versa, so learning and rubbing minds in peers is the best way to nurture a growing friendship.
4. The Advocate Mentor
This type of mentor is usually rare, and most times, they are usually found in a place of work. If you’re lucky, it might be your first working place. The important thing about this type of mentor is that there is usually something they see (potential) that makes them want to take you under their wings.
This mentor will talk you up to others; they will advocate and vouch for you when you’re not in the room. They have your back always because you’ve also proven yourself, and they know they can ride for you. I call them career boosters, and you can only find them where you work. This type of relationship often outlives a particular working environment. Often, they are connectors, too, introducing you to people and resources in your industry, and even in rare cases, they invest in you with their own money. I am fortunate and privileged to have one now, and I can tell you the relationship is for life.
5. The Anchor Mentor
This person does not really have to work in your industry. Your anchor is a confidante and sounding board with a repertoire of knowledge and expertise. They often give you a psychological lift and help you see through the cracks during challenging times.
They can be very insightful regarding professional growth, setting priorities, achieving work-life balance, and not losing sight of your objectives and goals. They offer and give a varied perspective from those in your industry, which can balance your own insight on any important issue.
The Myth About Mentorship
If you need a mentor, you need to identify the kind of mentor you want in your current career stage. However, there is also nothing stopping you from having them all because one person cannot essentially guide you throughout your career. So, like a scavenger in search of carcasses, you should search for these different mentors to accelerate your career growth.
The job of a mentor is not to look for a job for you. The different kinds of mentors listed above are meant to guide you, give clarity to your challenges, and you can use the information or advice you get to your advantage.
They accelerate your career; what took them ten years can take you less if you apply the tips accordingly. If a mentor refers you and connects you to an opportunity within their circle, it is mostly because you earned it; they feel connecting with you will be worth it.
Do not connect with a mentor and during the first session, all you talk about is whether they can refer you or connect you to jobs. It’s a huge turn-off, and there are chances you might not hear from them ever again. Show off your skills and ability and let them come to the conclusion you’re a talent worth investing time and resources on.
As a mentee, you should also track the impacts and improvements a mentor has made in your journey of becoming a better professional. Depending on the type of mentor, your mentor should be able to provide you with training resources, goal setting, direction, motivation, coaching, and support. In addition, any of the mentors above can also be your confidence booster because we all need a cheerleader in our corner to tell us we are good enough when self-doubt sets in.