Commitment! A Q&A on Mentorship

Q. Hi! What is your name and what do you do?

A. Howdy. I’m Matthew Reiswig and I’m a UX Designer at Pivotal.


Q. What kind of people do you mentor?

A. Designers.


Q. Why do you mentor?

A. It feels good to help people, and it gives me a different path for growth.


Q. How do you find people to mentor? Or do they find you?

A. Usually, it’s through word-of-mouth. Sometimes, it’s connections made through my teaching opportunities or speaking engagements.


Q. How do you usually communicate with your mentee?

A. In-person meetings and Slack…occasionally email. For me, those work best. It’s important to find something that works best for both of you.


Q. How do you find the time to schedule in mentees?

A. I make the time because I value mentorship equally with the other tasks in my day—it’s important. And, I’m lucky to have a job where I have the flexibility and the autonomy to do so freely. I acknowledge that not everyone has that.


Q. Tell me about the last time you mentored someone.

A. Amanda and I have been working together for about 6 months—she was a student of mine earlier this year. We speak or meet once or twice a month but not on a schedule. Lately, she’s been trying to upskill and find a new position, so we’ve been discussing emerging toolsets, skill development, and career paths. It’s a great mentor relationship with an up-and-coming UX talent.

Q. What, in your opinion, makes a mentoring relationship successful and why?

A. I’ve seen people flame out of mentoring because they think it’s one-way career heroics. What makes a mentoring relationship successful is a mentor who sees it as a two-way opportunity for collaboration and learning. If you do that, you learn from each other and end up making a new colleague and friend.

Q. What, in your opinion, causes some mentoring relationships fail and why?

A. Heroism and lack of commitment. If a mentor communicates in a way that portrays their career choices as infallible or lucky, a mentee can quickly lose hope. If a mentee worships the ground the mentor walks on, the relationship is doomed from the beginning. For a good mentor relationship to thrive, both parties have to truly believe that positive and achievable growth can realistically occur through their interaction—heroics of any kind are the antithesis to that. Lack of commitment is also a (quiet) killer. One of you misses an appointment. One of you doesn’t prepare properly. One of you is late to a meeting. Call it respect, call it preparation, call it punctuality—I call it commitment. And when one or both of you lacks that, the relationship dies.

Q. Have you had a mentoring relationship you considered a failure? Tell me about it.

A. Yes. I’ve had a few mentees that just didn’t make the commitment needed to be a good colleague. I found that they often were unprepared and/or late. They used me like a career therapist who was there only to listen to them complain—about “the job market,” or their bosses, or their lack of resources. Does everyone have a bad day? Yes. But any good relationship has balance and commitment.

Q. What is the hardest part of being a mentor? Why?

A. Not being able to “make it happen” for them. Sometimes, people who are extremely talented and are doing all the right things just can’t get to the next level. The timing is off, the market is tight, the company takes a turn…whatever it is, it just doesn’t come together. That’s a difficult thing to watch.

Q. What is the best part? Why?

A. When you unexpectedly catch them just being a good colleague. I’ve caught my mentees posting amazing advice in an industry Slack channel. I’ve run into them at an event I forgot I encouraged them to go to. I’ve heard about their promotion long after we’ve parted ways. It’s such a cool experience to know you may have had the slightest positive influence toward making that happen.

Thanks for making this happen, Matt.

You’re welcome. It’s been fun!

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