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I'm a designer with about 1.5 years experience doing solid commercial work. I work hard and can present and prototype my own work. I'm in a fast growing design team - 6 at last count. The guy heading the team (my boss) is a well seasoned UX consultant and has produces the kind of quality of work I aspire to, and has good design selling skills.

Ideally I'd like this guy to mentor me. Being relatively young and inexperienced means I have a bit of difficulty choosing the best path sometimes and would like to have someone close I can bounce my ideas off and get a recommendation as to which is the best course of action to follow, why its the best, and why the others are not.

Someone who I can trust will not just advise me to work harder because it is in their best interests, but because they know it will make me a better designer.

Without telling a story, I don't believe my boss will do this. We don't have a great relationship: I receive very firm, curt direction when I'm under him on a project. No discussion.

There is no-one else there that has the skills I aspire to. (Of course, I'd also like that warm, fuzzy team feeling from sharing & growing together.)

I know its hard to give specific advice here as there is so much about my personal situation that would need to be communicated in order to make it clear; however

  1. Am I being a bit of a wet blanket and expecting too much from my superiors?
  2. Being honest in my next interviews at other companies about wanting a bit of mentorship, do you think I have a chance of finding someone like this or is it less likely I'll find someone who can mentor in a design team?
  3. If so, where have others looked and found?
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I don't think you'r a bit of a wet blanket. Every person is different in what he/she wants/needs. Not only in your private life, but also in your professional life. You're saying that your supervisor is giving you very firm directions from him. It could be it's just 'who he is', but it could also be that he gives you this kind of directions because he thinks that you need it, and that it works for you. The only way to be sure of this is starting the dialogue. You can do this directly to your supervisor, but you can also start with talking to your direct colleagues about it, to test the temperature of the water.

If I read between the lines a little bit, I get the sense that based on the experience and skills you want your supervisor to be your mentor, but based on the kind of person he is, you don't feel to sure about it. You can also look somewhere else for a mentor. Try (online) designer-societies, and just start talking about what you do and join discussions about what others do. Not only does this enlarge your knowledge and insights, it also lets you connect to other people which increases the change to meet experienced people that could act as a mentor.

Being honest in a next interview about wanting a bit of mentorship is not wrong, just be careful about it. If you really want the position and you're willing the give up (some of) the mentorship part, don't emphasize it to much. But if the position, and the team, allows it, it is not wrong to tell them you'd like it if the more senior designers could mentor you a bit.

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I don't know this person, but try not to confuse his behavior during meetings with how he may be in other settings. Some people like to "put on their game face" and stick to the meeting agenda and get things done because time is important and meetings suck. This is what he does for a living, so working with you in his area of expertise shouldn't be too aversive (Although he may want a break from it occasionally.).

Be extremely respectful of his time. Ask about being a mentor or just getting feedback, but strongly suggest you are willing to work with his schedule. You're not going to just drop by his office and have a chat. Scheduling in advance may be preferable or he has a block of time where he is available but can't be specific until the last minute.

Be prepared. Have specific questions and limited pieces of work to look at. Don't just come in and ask him to review your entire portfolio.

If he truly is the best person to learn from, you may have to put up with some unfriendly, blunt, terse and limited feedback. In the long-run, this may be better than spending hours with an incompetent person.

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I'll add a vote to the "different bosses are different" platform. And also the "people are different in different contexts".

I'd like to think that for just about every boss, being a mentor should be part of the job description. In practice, it varies wildly from situation to situation, but every boss should be capable of:

  • Giving honest feedback about your work
  • Showing you places where you could grow your skills and suggesting opportunities for doing so
  • Being a sounding board for ideas.

In many companies, the idea of a 1 on 1 is set up for every employee to privately touch base with their boss to get feedback and talk about the work. I'm a huge fan.

Specifically Mentorship

Formalizing a mentorship relationship (as opposed to just getting guidance from your boss on a regular basic) can be another thing, and it is within your boss' purview to say "no" here. Asking for mentorship is to ask for focused guidance on growing your career, and it has to be a case where both you feel that the person has sound advice, and the mentor feels they have a relationship where they can give you this advice.

While mentoring you on some level should be a part of your boss' job, he may feel that giving you more feedback than he gives to others is special treatment. He may also feel he doesn't have the time to be a decent mentor.

It never hurts to ask, but realize there are multiple angles to this and that he may turn you down as a formal mentor, but you can still ask for and expect some more guidance than just a curt response in a meeting.

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