5 Questions to Ask Your UX Mentor

5 Questions to Ask Your UX Mentor

BY Ana Santos

Having a mentor who’s able to support you in your UX journey, no matter which stage you are at, can be a huge source of inspiration and an essential part of your personal growth as a UX professional. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that there are many things to be aware of as you enter a mentorship relationship. Relying too much on your mentor or being unable to interpret their feedback might actually have a negative effect on your work. Fortunately, as a mentee, you play a big role in making sure the relationship is a positive one for you.

While some mentors are trained to do the job specifically, within a work context or as part of a structured program, many valuable mentors are born out of organic informal relationships. Regardless of their origin, a key factor in making this type of relationship successful is asking the right questions. 

Here are five questions you can ask your UX mentor to make the most of your time together.

1. How did you get into UX? 

Everyone loves to tell stories, especially when they’re talking about something they’re passionate about — like UX. When you ask about your mentor’s personal path, they’ll be excited to share their stories with you. Not only does this topic help foster an emotional connection, which is the foundation to building a relationship of trust between you two, it also allows you to learn and be inspired from hearing other people’s successful stories. 

Alternative questions

  • How did you start your UX career?
  • What made you want to pursue UX?
  • How did you get this position?
  • What were the main obstacles you faced in your career?
  • What UX courses did you find useful?

Things to avoid

Avoid asking for a specific formula, as each person’s experience will be subjective and personal. (e.g., avoid asking “How do I get the same job as you?” or “How do I get into UX?”) 

Key considerations

  • Everyone’s path is different. Your mentor’s story, no matter how incredible, should serve as inspiration and not be used as a recipe to achieve success. 
  • Ask about things you’re truly interested to know about and that you can learn from.

2. Can you give me honest feedback about…? (with context) 

This can be a great question if given appropriate context and guidance. This means, when you ask this question, you should be providing your mentor with information about the background of the project/work/piece you want feedback on, as well as how it connects to your goals. For example, if you want your mentor to critique your portfolio, tell them about the type of role or projects you’re looking for. 

Alternative questions

There are many different ways to ask for feedback, but the general rule is that the more specific the better. Make your questions focused on your project goals, user needs, or business goals.

Things to avoid

Avoid applying every single piece of feedback someone gives you, regardless of whether they’re your mentor or not. There’s rarely a single way to achieve a certain goal, and especially in the design field, much of the feedback you get will be subjective. Learning to give and receive feedback is a skill.

On the other hand, avoid being defensive. You should always be open to constructive feedback and different perspectives, while at the same time exercising critical thinking and self-reflection. 

Key considerations

  • Feedback is subjective, regardless of how much experience someone has.
  • Before applying any feedback you receive, understand the why behind it. Don’t apply something you don’t understand, just because someone more experienced said so.

3. How did you act/respond when…? (specific situation)

It’s tempting to secretly wish your mentor could make the hard decisions for you, especially if you’re facing a particularly difficult situation. A better way to obtain guidance that’ll empower you to make your own decisions is to ask about their experiences in the past. The above is a great question because you’re not asking an hypothetical question or expecting a solution from them. In this case, you’re asking your mentor about how they personally responded to a similar challenge, which is something you can learn from. 

Alternative questions

This question can take any form or shape depending on the situation or challenge you’re facing.

  • What did you do the last time stakeholders didn’t like your design concept? 
  • Were you ever unable to get enough participants for research? What did you do?
  • What did you do when someone didn’t follow up after a job interview?
  • How did you prepare when you had to speak in public for the first time?

Things to avoid

Avoid asking hypothetical questions in case your mentor hasn’t gone through that same specific challenge, such as: “If you were going through this specific situation, what would you do?” as that leads to inaccurate and biased answers (the same rule applies in UX: what people do and what people say is different).

Avoid indirectly requesting a solution from your mentor by adding “if you were me…” to your question. Not only is this still a hypothetical situation, it might prevent you from finding a solution on your own. 

Key considerations

  • Even though you can ask your mentor for specific advice and share your struggles, be aware that everyone has biases and their responses could influence your own decisions.
  • Despite popular misconceptions, a mentor, unlike a consultant, isn’t someone who will provide you with all the answers, though they can provide you with informal advice based on their own experience.

4. What do you think my strengths and weaknesses are? 

This is only a great question if you’ve been working with your mentor for a while and they’ve had the time to observe your approach to work and how your skills have developed. In this case, this question will help you get an external perspective on how someone else perceives you, inviting you to reflect on areas you could either highlight or work more on. Depending on how much your mentor knows about your goals and purpose, you can get into more detail by using the alternative versions below.

Alternative questions

  • What skills do you think I should be working on? 
  • Where do you think I can improve?
  • What areas should I be working on to get closer to my goal?
  • What skills do you think I should highlight in my portfolio?
  • What type of role would benefit from the skills I have?

Things to avoid

Avoid asking generic questions such as “what are the skills needed to get into UX?” as there’s SUCH a wide variety of roles and contexts. It’s more beneficial to discuss skills once you have a clear idea where you want to go in your own career.

Key considerations

  • Reflecting on your strengths and weaknesses should be part of your personal development plan. 
  • Ask this question to others as well, such as colleagues, co-workers, or peers.
  • Compare other people’s perceptions with your self-perception and draw some conclusions.

5. What are some books/resources you recommend to help me with…? 

This is a great question if it’s specific. It can also be a great follow up to the previous question: “What books or resources do you recommend to help me improve these specific skills?” 

Your mentor will most likely have their own toolkit and favorite resources which they’ll be excited to share with you.

Alternative questions

Again, this question can apply to different situations, and the more specific the better.

  • Is there a tool to calculate research incentives?
  • What books do you recommend for UI design principles?
  • Are there any resources to help me practice my visual design skills?
  • Where can I learn more about design sprints?

Things to avoid

Once again, you might want to avoid asking generic questions such as “what is the best UX course?”, as it will depend a lot on your learning goals. 

Key considerations

  • One of the great advantages of having a mentor is that they can help you navigate through the overwhelming amount of information about UX on the world wide web; don’t be afraid to ask for specific resources and recommendations.
  • If you find a useful resource, feel free to share it with your mentor as well and don’t assume they’ve already come across everything. The truth is that we learn a lot from our mentees as well.

Trust the process & contribute to the relationship

Mentoring and being mentored can be equally rewarding and beneficial for both parties, when a foundation based on trust is built. A mentorship can be established at any stage, whether you’re just starting out in UX or if you are ready for the next step of your career.

Most of the time, we have high expectations when meeting for the first time with someone who’s achieved what we can only dream to achieve. Our mentor will not always have the answers — and that’s okay. Their path will serve as an inspiration for you to crave your own.

Don’t be afraid to contribute to the process, lead with your own questions, and share your vulnerabilities and struggles if that’s the case. 

In the end, while you’re the only person who can make the decisions, having a mentor by your side who supports you every step of the way is irreplaceable.

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