How to find a mentor – A practical guide
Maybe you already know you need one. But how do you find a good mentor and establish a productive relationship?
Luke Skywalker and Daniel from The Karate Kid will be the first to tell you that having a cracking mentor is a gamechanger (Yoda and Mr Miyagi anyone?). Mentors can transform your career, open your mind to new possibilities, and support you when you’re at your lowest. But you need to know what to look for.
To start with, your mentor should understand your work and the potential open to you. And let’s be straight. As much as the relationship is about them guiding you, it really boils down to you being clear about what you need.
A mentor is not a coach
It’s worth mentioning, that sometimes a coach is better suited on certain occasions. A coach and a mentor are different – sure, there is some overlap between the two roles, but if we were to polarise them:
- Coaches support your growth and development, helping you to focus on your goals, vision, and everything you need to get there. They’re experts in helping you move forward and achieve your goals and don’t technically need to know anything about the work you do. Coaches will ask you lots of questions so you can get to the solution yourself – they won’t tell you what to do!
- Mentors are professionals working in your field, who act as sounding boards for your ideas and can connect you with relevant people as well as make career suggestions. Mentors should be giving advice and also asking questions, but it’s vitally important that they understand the work you do.
Where to look for a mentor
Before you begin your noble quest for a mentor, ask yourself what is it that you actually need. Some general career guidance? Are you banging your head over a particular creative issue? Maybe you’re looking for a role model to emulate? Once you’ve got that sussed, make a list of the companies you rate and start tracking down some contacts. Company websites will usually have some kind of email you can ping an inquiry to. Ask who would be the best person to speak to regarding your request. Social media is also an incredible way to link up, so why not send a humble DM on Instagram? You’ve got nothing to lose, just be professional in your messaging.
You can also have more than one mentor. As a creative, for example, having a couple who have different specialisms can be massively useful. Maybe one has a very similar aesthetic to you, and the other actually works in the company you hope to join. But hey, no need to go crazy and consult a herd of mentors (too many chefs and all that). You’ll just end up confused.
Attributes of a top-notch Mentor
Mentors should be willing to give three main things: their time, their wisdom, and their network.
They should make time to speak, whether that’s in-person or remotely. The frequency of contact is less important than the quality of your conversations. What’s key is that they have a solid understanding of the journey you’re on as a professional, including where you’re at now, you’re overall ambition and the immediate next steps you could be taking to get closer to your goal.
They should draw on their own experience to give you as much advice as they can. To help you learn from their mistakes and draw from their wisdom.
A serious bonus is that they can give you access to people they know, when appropriate, so that you can get the right foot through the right door at the right time.
They don’t always agree with you
Those who really care should challenge you on your decisions and opinions. And a good mentor/mentee relationship should have an element of creative tension in it. The best decisions and opinions come through discussion and debate. Try not to slip into niceties and politeness, but build a relationship where mutual challenge and respect are prized.
They’re effective communicators
It’s tempting to seek out the world’s greatest After Effects wizard to mentor you. But if they can’t articulate their process well or make you feel empowered about tackling something that was stumping you, it’s pointless. Mega technical mastery does not equate to a world-class mentor. Seek out somebody who is not only easy to easy to understand, but patient enough to explain everything from nifty hacks to complex industry etiquette.
Your Responsibilities as a Mentee
Connect as Humans
Try to see them as a person, not as a professional who only exists to help you get a job. Connect with them on a personal level. Find out about their life, their hobbies, and their dreams. Whether you’re reaching out for the first time, or if this little #promance is blossoming, be upfront about why you wanted them as your mentor and how they inspire you. You’ll learn so much more if you reach this point, than if you keep it strictly business.
Don’t Take Them For Granted
They are busy people. Likely much busier than you. So respect their time and don’t demand too much of it. At the start of your relationship, agree how many sessions you’ll do together – putting an end date in at the start makes it easier for you both to manage expectations and workload. You can always extend to more sessions at the end of your agreement if it’s working for you both. Make sure you always turn up early for meetings you set, and cancel them in good time if you have no other choice. Two cancellations in a row, is seriously bad form.
Be Proactive & Specific
It’s up to you to keep this relationship going. If you’ve not spoken to them in a while, get in touch with some specific parameters. “Hey, are you free for a catch-up?” is nowhere near as good as “Hi, I wondered if you had 30 minutes this week to discuss the improvements I made to my website?”
Remember, they won’t necessarily tell you how they’re going to help you and nor should they! That’s up to you to determine and for them to respond accordingly. If you know you prefer face-to-face over Skype, make the request. Don’t like sugar-coating and prefer feedback given straight up? Say so! Have some questions prepared before you connect. Write. Stuff. Down. (Oh yes, bring pen and paper. Don’t jab it into your phone, information sticks better if it’s written. Science says so). The more specific you are with what you want from them, the better they’ll be able to help you. They’ll love you forever if you make their life easier too.
We think mentors are super important
Mentors are crucial to your success so that’s why they’re an integral part of all Created courses. Every creative like yourself who attends one of our courses has a 1-to-1 relationship with a professional mentor. You’ll meet throughout the course to talk about your projects and your progress.
Regardless of whether you’re thinking of applying to Created or not, you should think about getting a mentor. There are plenty of services like the Creative Mentor Network that connect people like you with enthusiastic mentors.
Still confused? Need a chat? Want more Created info? We got you… email [email protected] and we’ll be there for you.
Good luck, young grasshopper.
Learn what makes a great motion design showreel directly from the employers of some of London’s most well-known creative studios.
Created’s in house designer Gianluca Alla has just been featured in Computer Arts Magazine for his recent work with typography, so we thought we’d interview him about the article and his work!
In episode 2 of our How I Got Here podcast series, we chat to Director & Motion Designer Paul Dixon about his career journey.