Being an Impactful Mentor

Presented by Julianne Burke at You Got This From Your Couch

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These transcripts were captured live by a captioner. As such, there may be small errors. If you spot any, please feel free to submit a pull request with amendments.

JULIANNE: Cool. Hi! I'm Julianne. And, good morning San Francisco right now, and good afternoon to all my friends over in the UK. I woke up super early to try to get as many of the live talks as I could. I've been on Discord since 5.30. So I'm going to be talking about how to make an impact as a mentor. So, to start, I'm an experienced designers, and a design mentor, and a speaker, and professionally, I have a background in designing user interfaces nor for - for a range of technologies, including mobile websites, virtual reality, and augmented reality activations.

As a mentor, and a design professional, I am super passionate about connecting with and uplifting the next generation of designers, especially designers from demographics that are typically under represented in tech and the design industries, and I love that I can provide insight for my mentees by drawing from my experience, and I can draw as a professional what students are excited about and how student passions evolve year to year. I've been a mentor in a few different capacities over my design career. I began as a student mentor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and that involved reviewing first- and second-year student projects, giving feedback on their work, and giving an idea of what to expect in the coming years of their design education. Then, after graduating, and moving into my first full-time position, I began partnering with more formal mentor-matching programmes to connect with students, and help with their transition from student to industry professional.

Also, when I first moved from Rochester to San Francisco right after graduation, I knew almost no-one in the city, and I was really looking for some sense of community, and a kind of more fostering connections, and I found that joining mentorship programmes was a great place for that. Next, let's get clear on what a mentor actually is. A mentor is different than a teacher or a sponsor. A teacher is someone who teaches curriculum typically in a classroom setting and a sponsor is generally someone in a workplace who has power to advocate for your advancement, such as a senior executive or your manager. A mentor on the other hand is someone who can help expand your network, help with goal-setting and put things into context for you for your advancement. One person can fulfil more than one of these roles. Like a professor can also be a mentor, or a manager can also be a mentor, but it's important to distinguish each role having their place, and what each one of those people will do.

Let's say you've decided to become a mentor. Whether you've signed up for an official programme, or opted to connect with someone more informally, you have the potential to make a massive impact on your mentee's future. Here are some guidelines to make sure that you have a positive impact on your mentee. Number one: prepare yourself. You want to do this prior to your first meeting with your mentee. I encourage you to sit down and define your goals as a mentor privately. What do you want out of the relationship, and what can you offer? Write these down to reflect back on later. For example, your offerings might be giving advice on submitting college applications, how to start in a particular industry, and giving feedback on projects, and then your goals might be connecting with someone in a particular field that you're interested in, and you want to learn more about.

So, for example, I recently had a mentee a grad student studying computer interaction, and as I had more computer experience than her, give her advice on job hunting, managing her portfolio, she could tell me about the ins and outs of her programme and the grad school experience. So it is important that the relationship between the mentor and the mentee can be mutually beneficial, and establishing your offerings and goals beforehand will help with that. So next, in your initial conversations, really allow your mentee to pile the conversation. Ultimately, it's up to your mentee to make the most out of your relationship with you and be responsible for their own development. Let them ask questions, let them describe their goals and explain what they hope to gain from your mentorship. This might include you describing a typical day at your workplace, the mentee discussing their future career goals, and maybe your mentee wanting to build a portfolio site or complete a full portfolio project over the course of your time together.

Again, mentorship is not you, the professional, talking at your mentee, it's a collaborative discussion. Mentees should really drive the initial conversation. However, you should be prepared to lead the discussion and look for cues to take on that leadership role. During your initial meeting, your mentee might seem shy, timid, or unsure. Keep in pinned, if they're a student, this might be their first interaction with a professional, and they might just be nervous. It doesn't mean they're disengaged or disinterested in the relationship - rather, it's a cue for you to take a lead and try out different possible paths to establish goals with your mentee. A lot of the mentees I have had have been High School or early college-age students. Most of the time they're around their peers all the time, people close to their age and generally at the same life stage as them. While you might not feel intimidating, there's a chance they're intimidated by the situation, or don't want to say the wrong thing or come off as uninformed. Take the lead and prompt them with questions like what they're studying, are they in school, what their favourite subject is, or ask them to talk through a project they're currently working on. You don't need to start with any difficult questions.

The important thing is to get the conversation going so that they can feel more comfortable talking to you and getting to know you. This sun is 100% in my face. Next, understand your mentee's position. Get to know your mentee's situation early on in a relationship. Are they in school? What year are they in? What classes are they taking? What is their learning and work environment like? Are they juggling school and a job? Are they a caretaker? Make sure you understand where your mentee is coming from. Kind of what they're juggling in their life context. Especially now during Covid, having context for what your mentee is having to deal with, doing e-learning, Zoom school, having to move from campus, et cetera, can really help, and it helps when setting logistics and boundaries in the mentor/mentee relationship, such as what days and times you will be available to meet, how often you meet, how you communicate, and the timeline of the relationship, so, for example, some mentor a little bit mentee relationships are a one-time meetings, and others are where you meet for so many weeks for a certain number of months.

Depending on Europe mentee's personality, get to know where they want to meet. This will be post Code, but they might like to meet in a coffee shop versus meeting in your office, and this can help foster a more personal connection and get to know each other better. Next: get to know who your mentee really is. Your mentee is greater than their degree, class, or job, and really try to get to know them as a whole person. Ask them what they like to do outside of school and work, if they have any hobbies, what their dream career might be. If they have any side passions, or projects, understanding who your mentee really is as a person will help you collaborate when establishing goals for their future development. This is a good chance for them to get to know you better as well. So, you can talk about your side project, your hobbies, things you're passionate about, and let them get to know you more holistically and feel more comfortable around you with those non-work-related questions as well. Inspired discussions about the future. No future or creative idea is too ambitious. Get your mentee brainstorming from their interests, their passions, causes they care about, their hobbies, or people they're inspired by. Again, no goal is too ambitious.

As mentors, we want to encourage ambition. It's not your role to say that's not realistic.The role of mentor is to say that sounds so cool, let's think about ways we can tie in what you're learning and working on to this future goal that you have, and to Salem find some resources for you on that, so really like a system, however you can in developing that goal. For example, another one of my past mentees, along with being a full-time college student also ran an art non-profit and creating their first collaborative zine with local artists, and I mentioned this in the discord, but the zine community online is super resourceful and really strong. So, when they asked me for some resources on creating printing zines, I went out to my networks and found recommendations for local printers that they could use for their non-profit. Another one of my mentees aspired to work for one of the larger tech companies, so we discussed ways for her to begin working with employees at the company, and use her portfolio to highlight the skill set for the role she wanted. So inspiring future discussions about those goals, and not bringing them down to Earth, and not trying to tie them to any one degree or skill set but really using your own network and resources to build them up as much as you can.

Next, build trust. This is one of the most, maybe THE most important one. As you get to know your mentee, establish a mutually beneficial relationship with them as equals. Talk as if you're friends. It doesn't need to turn into a teacher/student or leader/follower relationship. You can connect if one has more experience in a field or is older. This helps to avoid any condescension in sessions. This makes them feel more comfortable asking those questions. It also helps if you're mentoring somebody who is older than you, because that can be a different dynamic mentoring someone younger than you, if someone has had a whole career in a different sector and is coming into your field and mentoring them, it helps to establish that equal conversation.

So mutual respect is really key. Take notes during your meetings. Keep up with what is going on in your mentee's life, and remember to ask about it later, so that they know you're thinking of them, you know you're keeping up with them, and take the time to send events or resources their way of something they've expressed interested in, and make it a point to keep up the relationship, and make sure that they know you're engaged with their development, you're not just talking at these meetings, but you're engaged with their development all the time. Do the work on your own. Remain engaged in the greater industry community in a range of ways so you can have the resources and networks necessary to help your mentee develop.

Some examples include networks, or relevant Slack spaces for your mentee to join, if they've expressed an interest in wanting to network more. Online classes if they've expressed an interesting in learning a new skill. Software - this is really helpful for students if they don't have the budget for certain software, finding if they want to do UX or UI, finding a free version of UX software, or develop some free coding resources. You're in a position to be a wealth of knowledge and resources for your mentee, and you as the mentor know so much more than you realise, and you have connections that can make even more of an impact on mentee's development. I love going to design events, and before Covid, I loved going to networking events in the city. It was fun that I get to do conferences like this where you're based not where I live, I can still attend the conference, speak to the conference, I can see all these events going on, so I try to take some time each week to search for events on Eventbrite, on Instagram, or Twitter, and if my mentee has expressed an interest, I will send them along and invite them to join me.

Next, keep it real. You don't have to know everything as a mentor, and you don't have to skip over the negatives or failure. Authenticity has a far greater impact on your mentee than perfection. Being authentic will clear the way for your mentee to be authentically themselves. Plans and agendas are great tools especially for someone who is newer to mentoring, still figuring out their discussion style and collaboration style, but genuine conversation can make the most tremendous impact in your mentee, so you can tell them about a promotion that you didn't get, or a conflict that you experienced at work during your project. And if is really important to normalise failures because your mentee will experience them at some point, and those situations can be flipped in a productive way. If you were passed over for a promotion or job, you can talk about how you grew from that experience, or how you pivoted to a new path after being rejected, and if you experienced conflict on a projecting you can talk about what you learned, and how you communicated with your team.

All of those things really help your mentee develop, not just seeing you swiftly move up the company or make all these achievements, your mentees will benefit from seeing you as a whole person, including your failures. Use those situations to help your mentee grow more. Number 10: be encouraging. Believe in your mentee. Allow them to have lofty goals, and encourage it, even. It's your job as a mentor to impart your expertise and experience and help them craft goals and takable next steps to reach those goals. You're their partner in crime. Again, no future goal or creative idea is too ambitious. It's our job to here our mentees' goals and dreams and see their path to success based on our experience and all the resources we can provide to them, so really be encouraging. Okay, the last slide was a recap. To go back through. Make sure that you have goals of your own so that you can set up an offering and a goal for your mentor/mentee relationship. Make sure that you have resources to provide to your mentees, networks ready to introduce them and let them grow, and be encouraging and allow your mentee to be as ambitious as they want to be. Yes, thank you.

About the talk

Mentoring has the potential to be one of the most fulfilling aspects of working as an industry professional. But how can you ensure that you make a real and lasting impact on your mentee and their future? In this talk, we'll discuss some of the best ways to get to know your mentee from your initial conversation, how to set an agenda and goals for the relationship, ways to inspire compelling discussions about your mentee's future, and what practical steps you as the mentor can take on your own to be a positive influence on your mentee's career.

About Julianne Burke

Julianne Burke is an experience designer who is passionate about exploring the potential of immersive technologies. She has led creative direction for a range of experiences, including virtual and augmented reality games, 360° green screen photo booths, and touchscreen activations. In her creative practice, Julianne designs with accessibility and inclusivity at the forefront. Outside of work, Julianne is an active mentor, writer, speaker, and zine-maker in the design community.

Photo of Julianne Burke

Julianne Burke


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