The Importance of Peer Mentors

July 7, 2016

One of the most effective way to grow and progress in your career is by finding mentors that will provide guidance along the way. Seeking advice from people who find it worthwhile in taking their time to invest in you will help you become better at your practice exponentially. There are two types of mentors. The first are senior mentors’ those who have practiced the craft for a very long time and share wisdom that you often don’t even see along the horizon of your career path. I wrote a bit about this in my post about having my personal board of trustees.

The second group of mentors are peer mentors; people who may not be senior to you (though they can be) but can provide guidance and insights in the current path of your journey. Often we think of mentors as someone with a lot more experience than us…a teacher/student relationship. Though those relationships are extremely important, remember that you can learn a lot from your fellow students as well.

My friend Natalie is a great example of a peer mentor. We are around the same age ad started our design careers at the same time. We have never worked together before but often converse about challenges we are going through. She is now the UX Director at Projekt 202.

We try to meet up every so often to catch up and get mutual advice from one another. This is not one of those sessions where someone is “picking your brain” and you get no value from it, but it is a two-way street where knowledge is shared as an exchange. Natalie would tell me some challenges she is going through, and I could chuckle then tell her “I am going through this exact same situation.” Though sometimes you need to rant a bit during peer mentor sessions, the intent is to really learn from each other. The difference between these conversations and the ones with your senior mentors is that your peers are in the midst of that process with you.

A list of some of my peer mentors (though not all):

There is no precise science to finding peer mentors, but you simply have to start conversations with people and see if it sticks. It does not have to match the job title you have, but the same state of experience/growth you are in. Natalie is a fellow introvert and very like-minded to me. Conversations with her really help me get a second opinion on my thinking and approach. We met by randomly following each other on Twitter. Lesli is a high-energy, super friendly (of course, she’s Canadian) and outgoing extrovert. We met because we happened to be sitting next to each other at a co-working space in New York City. Her opinion provides diversity to my approach. Find people who are situationally in the same place. An example is if you’re a designer looking to move up to a senior designer role, look for those who are looking for that same transition or people who have newly been promoted in that role.

Set an Agenda

This doesn’t have to be formally structured but I have found these conversations extremely helpful when there is time to think about things. Before meeting with a peer mentor, I like to send a few things I have been thinking to give them some context. In return, they do the same. I try to find mutual topics that we want to talk about.

I often like to cover:

  • catch up as friendly humans—see how they are doing in life
  • mention a few topics we both want to discuss
  • what has been working well and what has not
  • philosophies and guiding principles (I LOVE guiding principles
  • managing humans
  • situational advice and feedback

Set a Meeting Cadence and Stick to it

It’s important ot take the time to schedule these frequently. You decide in what cadence you need. I try to aim once per quarter, but with some people I may talk monthly and others (unfortunately) annually. Though these as group settings can provide value, my recommendation is 1–1 interactions. Go for a walk, get coffee, or some activity that lets you have a deep conversation. You will find these extremely educational, inspirational, and rejuvenating.

Go seek like-minded humans who bring a diverse perspective to refine you. Often your peer mentor might not work at the same company as you. In the quest for seeking mentorship, you may find that guidance needs to be found externally, which is fine. Think of this as rival professional athletes who train together in the off -season. It boils down to the needs you have as a practitioner of your craft and where you’re willing to seek it. It is totally okay to have a mentor who works at a different company.

See you who resognate with and reach out to them. The worse thing that will happen is you might not get a response. If you are looking for a peer mentor I am happy to make some connections or can make some time.

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