Job seeking is a minefield. Particularly in a highly competitive industry like product design. Particularly during a pandemic.

Of course, the main barrier to entry is experience. You don’t get it. But you need it in order to get it. To make things worse, certain companies will throw in a 3–5 years experience required for a junior role, just for a laugh.

There are definitely companies that push it too far, but there’s a reason why experience is so sought after by hiring managers. You can do all the self-teaching you want, but without a proven track record you’ll always be at a disadvantage. That’s just the nature of it.

So what’s the next best thing? Learn from people who have had that experience. Find a mentor.

How to find a mentor

There are many ways to find a mentor. I was fortunate to be approached by a brand new mentorship initiative, v.01 mentors. But you can also use LinkedIn to find designers whose career trajectory aligns with your aspirations, and see if they’d be open to it.

Much like job seeking itself, the answer will mostly be no. But eventually, you’ll find someone who is receptive to it. What’s the harm in asking anyway? In my experience, people in the design community tend to be very generous with their time.

Be wary of mentoring services that set you up with one-off chats with high-profile designers. These can be useful, but to see genuine progress it’s better to establish a regular session with someone, once a fortnight or once a month.

How to approach your sessions

  • Come prepared. As the mentee, it’s your job to set the agenda. Whether it’s a portfolio review or a practice run for a presentation, work out what would be most beneficial for you at the time and send them your ideas one or two days before.
  • Keep it flexible. Much like design work itself, things change all the time. Your needs will change, their availability will change. Keep the process flexible so you’re not setting an agenda weeks in advance, and don’t stress if they need to rearrange.
  • Be selective. You don’t have to follow every single piece of advice they give. Compared to other professions, UX design is a relatively new industry and it’s constantly changing. Everyone is figuring out their own path through it. Not everything they suggest will be right for you, so trust your instincts.

Here are 3 ways that having a mentor helped me in my job search:

Learning by osmosis

Looking back, I realized that I wasn’t even conscious of much of the learning I was doing, it happens automatically.

By talking with a senior designer on a regular basis, you pick up terms and ways of thinking that help you speak product language, in a way that will impress employers far more than just saying, “I’m creative and keen to learn”.

Red flag indicator

Your mentor will likely have gone through multiple hiring processes in their time, so their knowledge of how things are done can help you spot any red flags.

Whether a company has given you two days to complete a design task or given contradictory interview feedback, a mentor can point out any signs that it might not be the best environment to work in.

This kind of knowledge is invaluable in your job search and gives you the confidence to say no to opportunities that don’t feel right or move on from rejections.

Staying motivated

A big challenge of job seeking when you’re unemployed is the lack of a clear structure, which can make it difficult to stay motivated. Having regular mentoring sessions helps give shape to your search.

If I had a 1:1 coming up, I knew I would need to keep working so I’d have things to report. The sessions give you a mini target to work towards every month, and the feedback you get is essential too.

But what’s in it for the mentor?

I’d often wonder after a session, “that was really useful, but what’s in it for them?” I asked my mentor, Nicolò Arena, for his take:

Being a mentor made me a better designer, as I developed critical skills such as providing guidance and teaching. Helping a less experienced person make progress towards their goals is an intrinsically fulfilling process that can bring benefit to both the mentor and the mentee.

As a mentor, I became more aware of my strengths and how I can use them to support someone. Being able to clearly articulate my strengths also improved the way I collaborate with other disciplines every day at work, with my team.

There’s so much we can learn from each other, both by teaching and being taught. A robust mentorship can help mentors and mentees grow their skills, advance in their careers, and sometimes create long-lasting relationships.

A culture of mentorship

Job seeking with little or no experience is hard. There’s no getting around it, everyone goes through it. As someone who’s thankfully come out the other side, I wrote this article to share what worked for me, in the hope that it might help you. Which ultimately, is what a culture of mentorship is all about.

Generally speaking, the design community is an open book in terms of sharing knowledge and ideas. The more of that we cultivate, the better the industry will be. I hope, one day, I can pay forward the help I received.

Interested in becoming a mentor or mentee? Check out v.01 mentors if you’re based in the UK or Ireland.