Like almost every college first-year, I changed my career path. I initially decided to study economics and English, then go to law school. All my work in high school had been centered about going to law school, including a two-summer internship at a non-profit law firm.
But once I was in college, my interests diverged from my plan. I still wanted to study English (given the fact that the mastery of language is a valuable skill no matter the field), but my passion for design started to resurface. More surprisingly, while I’d found that I didn’t like computer science in high school, I was now excited by the problem-solving and thinking that the field requires.
And so, I decided I would delve into the field of User Experience and Human Computer Interaction. But I faced a big problem: how could I even begin to make the transition into a completely different potential career path? Ultimately, the answer was to get a mentor.
I believe that getting a mentor was the major distinguishing factor that has led me to the position I am in today, having completed an internship in Silicon Valley and anticipating a summer working for a large tech company in Redmond, Washington as a UX intern. The most useful tip I can give to young people starting out in an industry in which they have no prior knowledge of experience is: Get a mentor.
I can only speak on my own experience with my mentor, but I want to outline the importance of his role in my professional development.
The most useful tip I can give to young people starting out in a new industry: Get a mentor.
A good mentor can:
Provide an Industry Overview
When I began to become interested in UX, my mentor helped me understand what it is really like to work in the industry. I knew I was interested in the interdisciplinary nature of UX, but I did not really know the social settings I would work in nor the personality types. Mike Bach, design head and CEO of Joy, helped me understand that UX is a both incredibly collaborative and individualistic. I think the combination of independent design work and team critique and iteration was appealing to me.
Facilitate Opportunities for Work Experience
Because I had no work experience in UX, I was really apprehensive about trying to find a team that would take such a novice. However, when I expressed these concerns to my mentor, he asked me if I wanted to apply to intern for his company. Having a personal relationship with Mike allowed me to demonstrate my passion for UX, despite my lack of experience. While I could have blindly applied to companies, hoping that one of them would take a chance on me, I think my relationship with my mentor made the process less stressful and more fruitful for me. Because Mike knew the skill set I had, he facilitated a program for me that best fit my needs as well as the company’s.
Not every mentor will have the capacity to offer their mentees internships, but I think having a connection to someone in the industry will facilitate work opportunities.
Connect You to Other People in the Field
Through my internship at Joy, I was able to meet my fellow design intern, a then-sophomore with more experience under her belt as a young UX designer. Her knowledge, advice, and companionship was especially encouraging to me; she had insight as to what to do as an undergraduate looking for work that Mike did not.
Provide Intra-Industry Knowledge
Googling is only so fruitful when it comes to understanding how an industry works, and who it hires. My mentor’s experience in the industry helped me understand a few trends that I would not have been aware of otherwise. My previous GPA heavy-mentality was dismantled when Mike let me know that my grades are not important as the work I do. Had I not known this, perhaps I would be breaking my back over perfect grades versus creating a portfolio with substantial work that I am proud to show recruiters (though I still strive for a strong academic record).
Ultimately, my mentor has played an integral role in my professional growth and I encourage all young people to find someone to guide their future career goals. This can be accomplished by:
- Joining a Facebook group with professionals in your industry (for me that was Designers Guild). Post in these groups asking if any professionals are willing to mentor young people.
- Going to meetups for people in your industry and try to network with others. Using Meetup is a great way to get started with finding these gatherings.
- Attending formalized conferences. Reach out to panelists at these conferences if you find their talks to be insightful!
Tell Us What You Think
What makes a great mentor, in your opinion? We want to hear from you. Tell us about your experiences in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.