The Importance of Mentorship for Aspiring UX Designers

Whether you’re actively building a career in UX design or you’re just starting to think about it, there’s one aspect of your professional development that you don’t want to overlook: mentorship.

As you’re considering which UX bootcamp to dive into, it’s easy to miss exactly what type of mentorship and support any given training program actually offers. It’s also incredibly easy to get overwhelmed and distracted with the many important things on your career-change checklist. Sometimes we tend to forget that:

  • There are a lot of seasoned UX design pros out there with knowledge and experience to share!
  • There are also UX design training programs available that will connect you with one of these seasoned pros.
  • Not all UX courses or bootcamps are alike—some offer higher levels of mentorship and support than others.

So why exactly would you even need a UX design mentor? What does a mentor do? And which UX training programs offer the best kind of mentorship and support? In this guide, we’ll answer all of these questions and more. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  1. What does a UX design mentor do?
  2. Do I really need a UX design mentor?
  3. Seven benefits a UX mentor can provide
  4. Different forms of feedback or mentorship that UX bootcamps provide
  5. Which UX design courses provide the best mentorship?
  6. How to make the most of your UX mentorship
  7. Final thoughts

1. What does a UX design mentor do?

On the whole, a UX design mentor is a seasoned professional who brings all of their experience to the table. They share industry insights and provide guidance, feedback, and support as you establish yourself in the field.

How your mentor-mentee relationship looks, which platforms you use to connect, which topics you discuss, and what kind of feedback you receive will depend largely on your needs and goals, and your mentor’s specialized knowledge.

It can also depend on the expectations or parameters of the mentorship itself. However you came in contact with them, it’s a great idea to have a formal conversation early on about your needs and goals and what your mentor can offer in terms of time, feedback, and more.

If you find or are matched with a mentor through a UX design certification program, some of those expectations will already be in place—depending on how the program approaches feedback and mentorship (more on that later in this guide). But even in this context, your mentor will likely want to have a conversation about your needs and goals to find out how they can best support and guide you toward success.

Get a closer look at the role of a mentor in learning design and what to expect from your mentor in this conversation with UX design mentor and UX designer (and CareerFoundry graduate) Maureen Herben:

2. Do I really need a UX design mentor?

The answer to this is most likely a resounding “yes!” This is especially true if you’re brand new to the field and want to do everything you can to ensure that you’re successful—not just in the first few months and years, but also well into your career. That said, even seasoned UXers benefit from mentorship—and chances are that they’ve developed and sustained at least one mentorship over the course of their career.

Simply put, changing careers and breaking into tech comes with its challenges; so does continuing to work effectively and making an impact in the industry. A UX mentor understands what it takes to do this successfully, and they can help guide and support you as you go along.

Beyond this, there’s also the reality that UX designers work in so many different sectors, tackle so many different kinds of problems, and design solutions to meet the needs of so many different users. If you’re doing UX in the best way, you are 100% guaranteed to encounter problems that push you up against (or right over) the edge of your current knowledge.

Because the field of UX is deeply rooted in design thinking, it naturally evolves and adapts to the needs of the industry and the users they design for. This means that there is always something to learn.

Part of that dynamic and ongoing learning process is finding out what others have figured out before you. If you’re tacking a problem that feels new and that’s challenging the current limitations of your knowledge, a UX design mentor will be able to:

  • Share what they’ve learned in this area—their mistakes, their learnings, their successes and insights
  • Give advice and guidance as you search for jobs, negotiate salary, etc.
  • Point you in the direction of other experts who have tackled similar problems in the past and who can share their knowledge
  • Encourage you to keep pushing through those creative and cognitive blocks

But that’s not all a UX mentor does! Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of having a mentor as you forge a career in UX design.

3. Seven benefits a UX mentor can provide

An aspiring UX designer sitting at a desk with her mentor

Seasoned career advice

A great UX design mentor can give you advice as you fine-tune your transferable skills and develop a whole new skillset from scratch. With their knowledge of the industry and their familiarity with your background and skills, they can help you figure out which skills are most important for you to cultivate, as well as what specialized knowledge will compliment your strengths and make you a more competitive candidate in the job market.

In other words, a mentor has gone ahead of you on the UX design career “road trip”—they know where various paths will lead, what skills will get you through, where you can take shortcuts (and where you shouldn’t), where you might encounter obstacles, and where there’s nothing but open road and blue skies (ie, job offers, promotions, excellent product design, and fulfilling day-to-day work).

Empowerment and support

Your UX mentor is there to empower and support you. So when you’re feeling discouraged, overwhelmed, or simply frustrated with a particular tool or process, you can turn to your mentor for help. Beyond offering technical or strategic guidance, they can also help you feel more empowered along the way. They can help you through roadblocks, guide you in your job search, and even help you prepare for your first UX design interview(s).

As you do the work of forging this new career, a UX design mentor understands what aspects of the work and the overall journey require more, what it feels like to “fail” or to encounter obstacles, and what to do with those learnings so they ultimately contribute to your success.

Expert feedback on your work

Your mentor also understands the difference between good design and bad design: they know what high quality UX research looks like. They can piece together what elements in any given deliverable are truly effective (and up to industry standards), and which ones you can improve (and how).

Rather than going it alone or asking for feedback from friends, colleagues, or even family who may or may not know what excellent UX design even looks like—you can ask your mentor! The feedback they’ll give will be faster and more detailed, and you can rest assured that they’ll help you fine-tune your work to meet or exceed the expectations you’ll encounter on the job.

Make sure that you ask your mentor for feedback on your portfolio. A UX portfolio is an important part of your application package—it’s your ticket to the interview process. Your mentor can provide feedback on individual projects in detail, as well as what projects to include in your portfolio, how to improve your UX case studies, and any final polishing for the overall presentation. They can also guide you as you practice and prepare for whiteboard challenges! In other words, they can help ensure that your portfolio will catch the attention of potential employers—the ones who are looking for exactly what you can bring to the job.

Knowledge of tools and shortcuts

Like we’ve said, mentors know the job—the new and exciting UX design processes and tools that you’re learning are all in your mentor’s day-to-day. And when something becomes your “normal,” you know the lay of the land and how to navigate it.

Learning the tools of the trade can be time consuming and frustrating, especially when you’re learning on the go. You might have some idea of what you want the final product to look like (whether that’s a clickable prototype, a user persona, or high-fidelity wireframes), but how do you make it happen in Adobe XD, Figma, or any other industry standard tool? Your mentor will know how to navigate those roadblocks—how to make something happen in a particular tool, a shortcut/workaround, or a better tool for the job!

Insights and resources for further learning

Building your new skillset is clearly a learning process, and it’s one your mentor has already done (and probably continues to do). This means that not only can they share their knowledge, but they can also point you to resources (other UX designers, as well as UX design books, blogs, podcasts, and more) that will help you engage in that learning process every day.

Boost in networking opportunities

Beyond knowing a lot about the job and the industry, and sharing those insights and resources, your mentor has connected with other tech professionals (in UX or in adjacent fields) who also know a lot, have openings on their teams, and have their own go-to resources for learning and staying up with the latest trends. Before you’ve mastered how to network as a UX designer, your mentor’s connections will give you a head-start.

In other words, your mentor can point you to even more knowledge and opportunities. You’ll find that the UX community is an open and generous one! So many people working in this field are thrilled to see new folks joining the effort, and they’re usually very happy to share resources and become a part of your growing network.

Professional references

Don’t forget that your UX design mentor will see your work up close—not just the final result! They’ll see your process from start to finish. This means that when it comes time to apply for jobs, you have a professional reference who knows the quality of your work as well as your communication style, how you collaborate with others, and any number of other soft skills that employers will want to hear about.

Be sure to ask your mentor if you can list them as a reference in your applications! They won’t be surprised by the request, and as long as things are going well in the mentorship, they’ll probably be thrilled to help out with this.

4. Different forms of feedback or mentorship that UX courses and bootcamps provide

Three aspiring UX designers gathered at a desk discussing their bootcamp projects

If you’re looking for the right UX training program—one that will equip you with the job-ready skills you’ll need to make your successful start as a UX designer—there are many factors to take into account. One of the most important things to consider is what kind of feedback and mentorship the course provides. When it comes to this particular element, it’s definitely true that not all UX courses are made equal!

There are a lot of UX design courses out there that you can take (free or paid) that offer no feedback or mentorship at all. While these can work for your initial explorations, or serve as a supplemental resource, we highly recommend finding a program that offers more than that. The more individualized that mentorship can be, the better! Since it can take some digging around to figure out which courses offer what kind of feedback and mentorship, we’ve done some of that work for you.

We’ll share our top courses with you in the next section, but first, here are four different approaches to feedback and mentorship that you’ll encounter as you look at various UX training programs on the market:

  • Peer feedback
  • Assignment grading
  • Group mentorship
  • Individualized mentorship

Some courses will use a combination of these, but we’ll look at each on its own in a little more detail (as well as some of the courses that fit each category).

Peer feedback

Peer feedback, or “peer-graded assignments,” is a common form of feedback. While many UX courses utilize this method as a “bonus” feature, it’s the primary form of feedback employed in trainings such as Google’s UX design course.

In this type of feedback, there’s usually a discussion forum of some kind—whether it’s a Slack channel or a discussion board (similar to Reddit or Quora)—where you can ask questions and submit your work for feedback. The only catch is that there’s usually very little information available about:

  • How much participation there really is in these forums
  • Whether the forums are moderated (and to what extent) by actual experts in the field
  • How much feedback you’ll receive from fellow learners and whether anything will come from more experienced UX designers

Sometimes (as is the case with Google’s UX design course), there’s the option to have your work reviewed by a fellow student who’s ahead of you in the course (or recently finished it). This gives you the opportunity to learn from someone just in front of you on the path to career change, but it still doesn’t give you most of the mentorship benefits we outlined in the previous section.

While learning from your peers (other career changers who are new to the field) certainly holds value, you don’t know what you don’t know—and neither do they! Input from an expert is invaluable as you build that initial foundation of knowledge and experience, and peer feedback and discussion forums don’t consistently provide that.

Assignment grading

Some courses incorporate an evaluation method—which usually takes the form of periodic quizzes, and/or a final exam. Google’s UX design course and the UX Design Institute’s professional diploma are both examples of UX courses that use this method.

Knowledge assessment is useful for helping you (and anyone responsible for signing off on a credential at the end of the course) to understand your current level of knowledge, and to identify any gaps where more learning needs to happen. It can also provide a sense of accomplishment and pride. Depending on where you (want to) live and work, and any regulations around what constitutes a valid professional credential, this assessment component can be an important part of proving your knowledge to governing organizations. For example, this can come into play if you’re not a citizen of your country of residence and need a formal UX design qualification for official reasons.

But ultimately, employers are looking more at your actual skills than your qualifications. So unfortunately this approach alone is not enough. You can have all the knowledge stored in your brain and still lack the ability to carry out standard UX design processes in the real world! The reality is that a test score doesn’t guarantee that someone can actually do the job. UX mentorship, on the other hand, contributes to an active, hands-on learning experience that’s guided by expert insight and advice.

Group mentorship

This type of mentorship usually operates with cohorts of students—which would be you and other students in the course who signed up to start the course at the same time. You and the rest of your group learn with or from a mentor, whether it’s daily, weekly, or monthly (depends on the course). This is the primary mentorship mode utilized by the UX Design Institute’s course, as well as Ironhack, among others.

This can be an effective way to get expert input on how to carry out particular tasks, or to get answers to specific questions—just as long as:

  • Your mentor has the capacity to give quality time and attention to each member of the group
  • It’s in addition to high quality learning materials and hands-on exercises that are in sync with the industry

In group mentorship, your ability to get individualized feedback on your work will often depend on the mentor’s capacity and workload as well as your own willingness to take some initiative and get your work into your mentor’s hands.

While this form of mentorship provides some of the benefits we outlined earlier in this guide, you’re still not guaranteed the level of individualized feedback, support, and guidance you receive in a one-on-one mentorship—simply because the mentor’s attention and time is split between you and other members of the group.

Individualized mentorship

It’s ideal to enroll in a course that provides one-on-one mentorship with a seasoned UX designer. Individualized mentorship is the best shot you have at gaining the full benefits of mentorship as you kickstart your new career.

Courses like the ones at CareerFoundry, Springboard, and Thinkful offer varying forms of one-on-one mentorship. We’ll give you a list of the UX design training programs with the best mentorship in the next section.

Since we’ve already detailed the benefits of individualized UX mentorship earlier in this guide, we’ll simply add that the programs that offer this type of high quality mentorship also tend to offer other forms of feedback and support to complement it. So it doesn’t have to be this kind of mentorship and nothing else!

5. Which UX design courses provide the best mentorship?

A UX design mentor sitting at a desk, talking to two mentees about their work

As we’ve said, not all UX design trainings are created equal when it comes to feedback and mentorship. Here are our top five courses that offer the best mentorship and support. Keep in mind that even with this short list, you’ll want to delve deeper into the other aspects of each course or program to understand if it’s the best fit for you, your learning needs, and your career goals.

CareerFoundry

  • Individualized mentorship and feedback
  • Complimented with a level of peer support
  • Some form of assignment grading/review

CareerFoundry’s UX Design Program is 100% online and lasts 6-10 months. You’ll work through our expert-written curriculum at your own pace, and complete a portfolio’s worth of hands-on projects along the way. You’ll receive portfolio project reviews from your mentor (a seasoned UX pro), but you can also book as many calls as you’d like to get their advice, feedback, and insights.

You’ll also receive daily feedback on smaller assignments from your tutor (a UXer who’s also an expert on the course content and expectations). Between your mentor and tutor, each assignment or larger project you complete will be assessed and get final sign-off. This detailed feedback comes in written form, through video reviews, and/or in live video calls that you can book on your own schedule.

In addition to this, you’ll receive individualized career support from an expert career specialist— they’ll help you fine-tune your application package, interview skills, and job search strategy.

And you can top all of this off with lifetime access to an active Slack community of students and alumni. So you’ll also have immediate immersion in a network of fellow career changers who support each other, share ideas, and provide feedback.

To get an inside look at the support you can expect from your CareerFoundry mentor and tutor, check out this conversation between the head of CareerFoundry’s mentor team, Talia Savchenko (mentor), and Nimesh Visram (tutor):

General Assembly

  • Group mentorship and feedback
  • Complimented with a level of peer support
  • Some form of assignment grading

General Assembly’s UX Design Immersive is an in-person learning experience that lasts a little less than three months. You’ll work through GA’s curriculum with your fellow learners and expert instructors in an interactive classroom setting. You’ll have access to your instructor(s) to ask for advice and feedback, as well as to GA’s alumni network.

You’ll submit regular homework assignments for feedback, and then at the end of the bootcamp, you’ll complete and present a final project to earn your certificate.

They also provide career support to help you in your job search after you complete the program!

(Note that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, GA is offering this bootcamp online until further notice. It’s worth exploring what this learning experience is like in a remote/online format to be sure it will work well for you. They also offer on-demand learning resources, but as these don’t come with dedicated feedback and support, we don’t recommend that you rely on these alone.)

Ironhack

  • Group mentorship and feedback
  • Complimented with a level of peer support
  • Some form of assignment grading

Ironhack’s UX/UI Design Bootcamp is a 9-week, full-time learning experience that you can complete in-person or remotely. You’ll be in a live classroom setting for lectures and demonstrations from expert instructors—and these will come with brief knowledge checks to be sure you’re retaining the information.

Then you’ll work in a group with other students to complete a project together. You’ll have the chance to work in collaboration, which is the way you most likely work when you’re actually on the job. In addition to expert instructors, Ironhack makes a team of teacher assistants (TAs) available to you for questions and feedback. While TA support is great, it’s not quite clear how experienced they are in the field or how available the expert instructors are outside of the class sessions.

The bootcamp concludes with your final project, which you’ll present in a competition (called a “Hackshow”)—sounds like a form of assignment grading with Shark Tank vibes!

Springboard

  • Individualized mentorship and feedback
  • Complimented with a level of peer support
  • Some form of assignment grading/review

Springboard’s UI/UX Design Bootcamp is 100% online and lasts nine months, studying on a part-time basis. The lessons are made up of expert-curated resources, and you’ll complete hands-on projects along the way. You’ll have weekly calls with your own mentor, but you can get unlimited support from their community of mentors whenever you might need additional advice or feedback.

Your projects will be reviewed by hiring managers in the industry, and when you complete the bootcamp, you’ll have career support (in the form of coaching calls and an employer network) as you take those first steps into your new career.

Additionally, you’ll have access to their online student community, so you don’t have to learn entirely on your own!

Thinkful

  • Individualized mentorship and feedback
  • Complimented with a level of peer support
  • Some form of assignment grading/review

Thinkful’s UX/UI Design Bootcamp is a 5-6 month online learning experience, depending on whether you study full-time or part-time. You’ll complete hands-on projects and meet one-on-one with your mentor twice per week. In addition to this, your mentor will provide detailed feedback on your projects, and you’ll have personalized career coaching as you move from the bootcamp into your job search.

If you choose to study full-time you’ll also have daily workshops/lectures, a dedicated learning assistant to help with any issues that come up along the way, and a cohort of fellow learners who can provide some community and support. We like this setup better than the part-time option that offers open “office hours” with learning assistants and no cohort of fellow students!

If you’d like additional guidance on how to pick the best UX design bootcamp for you, check out this guide: How to Choose the Best UX Bootcamp for Your Career Change.

6. How to make the most of your UX mentorship

UX design mentor and mentee meeting for coffee

Having a UX design mentor is an excellent way to embark on your career-change journey—as well as to enrich your UX career long after you land that first role. But it’s not as though simply having someone you call a mentor does that magic all on its own! There are things you can do to make the most of your mentorship. Here’s what we recommend:

  • Set clear expectations and goals
  • Be prepared and ask questions
  • Respect their time and expertise
  • Get good at receiving feedback
  • Gather resources
  • Say “thank you”

Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.

Set clear expectations and goals

When you first start meeting up with your mentor, be sure that you’re both in sync regarding your expectations and goals for the mentorship. You’ve probably started meeting with this person because they’ve been working in UX for longer than you have and they have insights to offer. But “insights” is a pretty broad category to start a conversation with, so take the time to articulate:

  • Where you’re at in your learning
  • What challenges/questions you’re most curious about right now
  • What challenges and questions you anticipate
  • Where you think you might want to go in your UX career
  • What specific experience your mentor has that you want to learn from

In your early conversations, talk about all of this and take the time to find out what they have in mind as well! Depending on the context and your needs and goals, it might also be a good time to set a tentative end date or point at which you’ll pause and see how the mentorship is going and whether it’s time to move on or change things up.

Be prepared and ask questions

Whatever you do, don’t show up for a conversation with your mentor without at least a few bullet points for what you’d like to talk about. Your mentor might steer things in another direction, and that’s fine as long as it’s moving you towards your goals. But it’s always a good idea to take time before each meeting to think about (and write down):

  • What you discussed last time and how you implemented it in your study/work
  • What questions that implementation generated and what learnings you took away from it
  • What new topics you’re curious about
  • What projects you have going that need their feedback

Respect their time and expertise

Preparing well for each meeting will go a long way here. But in addition to that, here are some basic practices:

  • Starting with the basics: Be on time for the meeting.
  • If it’s happening remotely, make sure you’re in a quiet setting where you can focus. Double check your tech, too—best not to waste time with technical issues.
  • Take notes as you need to, but it’s also important to be engaged in the conversation!
  • Keep it professional. This doesn’t mean you have to be super formal and never crack a smile, though. Be respectful. Be courteous. And read the room—avoid casual conversation (like you’d have with a friend) unless it’s really the kind of conversation your mentor will also enjoy.

Get good at receiving feedback

Depending on the goals and expectations you’ve agreed on, your mentor will be happy to offer feedback on various aspects of your career—from your projects and portfolio to goals and the overarching direction of your UX path. But that doesn’t mean you should leave it to them to offer it unprompted or ask you to send something to them. Think about the goals of your mentorship and look at what’s currently on your desk. What would benefit from your mentor’s feedback?

When you ask your mentor for feedback, make sure you clarify what kind of feedback you’re looking for and what parts/aspects of the material they should focus on. This will help them understand what kind of time it will take.

And finally, when they give you the feedback you’ve asked for, do this one thing: Be open and not defensive.

It’s so easy to feel defensive when you’re in the vulnerable position of having an expert give feedback on something you’ve probably put a lot of time and effort into. Remember that their feedback is on the material (not you) and that it’s given with your career goals in mind!

The best way to respond: Listen, re-state the feedback (if it feels appropriate to do so), and then take some time to reflect and see if you have follow up questions. And then thank them for taking the time to look at it and offer their insights!

Gather resources

Your mentor very likely has a very long list of book and podcast recommendations, tools and tips, blogs, websites, and professional connections that they’ve gathered over the course of their UX career. Whatever projects you’re working on, whatever questions you have—ask for their insights, and then ask them for resources that will help you keep learning.

Say “thank you”

This might seem like a given, but it’s so important to remember. They’re giving you their time and letting you learn from their experience (mistakes and all!). A simple, verbal “thank you” can go a long way, but here are a few more ways you can give back:

  • Thank them publicly—i.e. on LinkedIn. This provides some exposure and announces not only their expertise, but also their investment in shaping the next generation of UX designers
  • Stay in touch with the projects they’re working on, if they’re willing to share. There might be ways you can help them out!
  • Many mentors have amazing industry side projects going—they might host a podcast, run a blog, or contribute to an information/learning hub in the field. If there are shareable resources, find them and share them with your network.
  • Similarly, if they have something like a Patreon, you can send the occasional financial support (as you’re able).
  • Later in your UX career, who knows? You might become a mentor in the field and you can pass along what you learned from yours. By that time, your mentor might even be an integral part of your professional network who you can introduce to your mentees!

7. Final thoughts

If you’re looking for a UX design course that will build a strong foundation for the rest of your career, find one that offers one-on-one mentorship! As we’ve seen, the training programs that do this usually come with a lot of other support as well.

So the question is: Do you need a UX design mentor? And the short answer: yes! 

This is true regardless of where you are in your career—there’s always something more to learn in UX! Generally, the more personalized the mentorship experience, the better. The benefits that individualized mentorship provides will serve you well into your career, but they can be particularly helpful in the early days of your career change.

If you’d like to learn more about kickstarting a career in UX design, here are a few other articles you’ll find helpful:

What You Should Do Now

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  2. Take part in one of our live online UX design events with industry experts.

  3. Talk to a program advisor to discuss career change and find out if UX is right for you.

  4. Become a qualified UX designer in 5-10 months—complete with a job guarantee.