Cultivating a More Diverse Design Profession

This post was contributed by Krista Sykes, a writer and editor with a background in architecture and design. She has worked with many practitioners, institutions, and publications in the industry, including Contract magazine. 


The 2018 IIDA Student Roundtable series looked to the future of design with a focus on diversity. Interior design students and key speakers, including some IIDA International Board Members, participated in conversations that took place in New York and Los Angeles. The following is a summary of those discussions. A full in-depth report about the series will be released by IIDA in March.

As the world becomes increasingly diverse in terms of culture and ethnicity, the interior design profession faces a distinct challenge: how can practitioners create environments that support and celebrate these rich differences? And how can the design profession better reflect a more diverse world? In fall 2018, IIDA presented the IIDA Future of Design Roundtable Series—two roundtable events in New York and Los Angeles—where a total of 35 interior design students and 11 educators and practitioners gathered to discuss this issue. What emerged in the series, sponsored by OFS, was an unqualified call for change. Specifically, to successfully design for diverse audiences, there must first be a push to cultivate diversity within the interior design profession. For this to happen, it is up to all, in every level of the profession, to take action.

Diversity itself is a complex issue, encompassing different expressions of race, religion, sexual preference, income level, cultural background, generational affiliation, and one’s stage in life as well as geographic location. As expected, the conversations in New York City and Los Angeles sounded quite different, as would those in any other city. Nevertheless, both roundtable discussions echoed common themes that offer broader lessons about diversity’s essential role in the future of the interior design profession.

Promoting Change

The many advantages of diversity in the workplace—including greater innovation, better decision making, and increased financial performance—have been well documented and, on the whole, widely embraced within the design community. Yet, many individuals and organizations remain unclear on how to cultivate and fully utilize diversity. Here, the presentations by renowned practitioners and educators proved invaluable.

At the Los Angeles discussion, Gabrielle Bullock, IIDA, FAIA, NOMA, principal and director of Global Diversity at Perkins+Will, and 2018–2019 IIDA International Board President, highlighted Perkins+Will’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Engagement program, an initiative she spearheaded and now directs across the firm’s 2,200 employees. Annie Chu, FIIDA, FAIA, 2018–2019 IIDA International Board Vice President, principal at Chu-Gooding Architects, and professor at Woodbury University’s interior architecture program, emphasized the current need within the profession to making different voices heard and underscored each designer’s personal duty to position themselves as a leader.

In New York, Jon Otis, IIDA, 2018–2019 IIDA International Board Vice President, Pratt Institute professor of interior design, and the founder and principal of multidisciplinary design studio Object Agency, discussed his recently launched Diversity By Design Foundation (dxdf), a nonprofit initiative dedicated to increasing awareness of design careers among people of all backgrounds.

The ensuing rich discussions with the roundtable participants generated concrete and manageable ideas to guide all students, educators, and practitioners on the crucial path toward achieving greater diversity within the profession. These practical next steps as well as additional insights regarding diversity in the interior design profession will be described in the detailed report about the discussions.

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Participants of the IIDA Student Roundtable in Los Angeles.

Moving Forward with an “Activist Mindset”

With rising frequency, design firm clients are younger, more diverse, and demanding design teams that echo the demographics of their own organizations. Likewise, firms are seeing more community-related projects, which require designers who reflect and understand these communities’ specific cultural and socioeconomic issues. Bullock notes that all practitioners have a role in cultivating these designers. Professionals have a duty to inspire individuals with different backgrounds to enter the profession, engage with global content and society’s shifting demographics, and to foster diverse workplaces where all contributions are valued.

The roundtable participants—students, educators, and practitioners—agreed that, while discussion is encouraging and must continue, action must happen now. “We are currently in an advocacy role. And it’s time now to shift into an activist mindset,” said Angie Lee, IIDA, AIA, 2018–2019 IIDA International Board Vice President and principal and design director of interiors at FXCollaborative in New York. “Advocacy works within the established structure and rules, and we do everything possible to leverage the power we have. But when we adopt an activist attitude, we start to rewrite the rules. The work we do along established paths is important, but we also need to break out of the comfort zone and just do what’s right.”


The Student Roundtable series brings together interior design students and local practitioners to engage in informal discussions on both the current state of the profession and the future of design. Learn more about other topics discussed from the previous roundtable report.

Connecting the Dots in Experience Design and Community Engagement

This year’s IIDA Power Lunch at the Healthcare Design Conference revolved around the idea of “community” and the design of healthcare settings. The event, hosted by IIDA and sponsored by Construction Specialties, featured an industry roundtable, which explored the intersections of design, patient outcomes, and community experiences.

Healthcare environments are evolving to keep up with shifting paradigms of comfort, wellness, and corporate humanity. This means that healthcare systems are reconsidering how their spaces look and feel and what they offer the communities they serve.

Here’s what the experts had to say:

Healthcare Design and Community

Organizations are fast becoming more community-driven, and healthcare facilities can be designed as community hubs. “Through intentional engagement with a broader audience of community representatives and stakeholders during the design process, as well as enhanced program offerings, healthcare facilities can become destinations for health, wellness, culture, and education,” said Edwin Beltran, IIDA, Associate AIA, IIDA International Board vice president and design principal at NBBJ.

To ensure the complementary nature of the different programs and their successful viability as destination hubs, healthcare spaces need a balanced combination of civic, sports, cultural, and health offerings. Programmatic amenities could include locally-focused retail outlets, meeting rooms for community groups and civic organizations, wellness centers, healthy-eating demonstration kitchens, food outlets, and farmers markets.

Integration can also take on the form of “blurred boundaries” between patient communities and host town communities. Environments that are developed to embody the unique cultural identity of a community are those that provide true belonging and a sense of place. An example of this could be a healthcare facility with playgrounds and parks as part of its campus design. This helps present the paradigm of healthcare spaces as favoring socialization instead of isolation.

Wayfinding and Messaging
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In order for a community to feel comfortable inside of a healthcare space and become truly integrated into its built environment, designers should consider how wayfinding and messaging affect visitor experiences. Sensory elements can be utilized to make a healthcare space feel inviting and welcoming: Pictures and symbols to assist with language barriers, calming colors that take into considering visual impairment, sounds that consider the hearing impaired, and words that are easy to understand and visually accessible.

Clinical spaces should also be committed to reducing the fear and anxiety that can often accompany a healthcare visit. “Community events and use of the facilities when the community is not in need of medical assistance is one way to make members of the community feel more comfortable in the space,” said Richelle Cellini, visualization specialist at Construction Specialties. “Retail spaces, yoga classes, or coffee shops within the medical space can also help reduce fear and disorientation.”

Humanizing Space

Healthcare architects and designers must walk in the shoes of patients, families, and caregivers with empathy, though this can be challenging in a world where schedules and budgets rule our frame of thinking. To create more humane, civilized healthcare spaces, designers should remember that a clinical environment does not have to look clinical. “Designing for the senses is one of the first steps to humanizing a healthcare space,” explained Suzen L. Heeley, IIDA, executive director of design and construction at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “Through the integration of sound domes, holistic fragrances, tactile materials, and specific colors, clinical environments can become more comfortable and healing-driven.”

Integrating Community

Embracing community means taking on new approaches to delivering services, such as working directly with members of the wider community. “Creating partnerships between health service organizations and health professionals, clinicians, patients, families, caregivers, and consumers is viewed as a fundamental precondition for effective delivery of healthcare,” said Amy Sickeler, IIDA, design principal at Perkins+Will. “Studies have demonstrated significant benefits from such partnerships in clinical quality and outcomes, the experience of care, and the business and operations of delivering care,” Sickeler explained.

The clinical benefits that have been associated with better patient experience and patient-centered care can include decreased mortality and readmission rates, and improved adherence to treatment regimes. Partnerships could look like free public health screenings, public health forums, free literature and written information, and health and wellness programs.

Facility Resources

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Rethinking the standards of a healthcare facility and the kinds of resources it can provide is important in understanding how medical spaces can better serve their communities. Healthcare facilities should be designed to provide top-notch security and function while maintaining external approachability, comfort, and visual appeal.

Healthcare designers should ask themselves: How is a healthcare facility equipped to deal with unforeseen emergencies like natural disasters? Does the facility have communal, family spaces? Does it have multiple accessible entrances? Do places that allow for relaxation and breathing room beyond the waiting room exist? “Facility resources should be closer to the point of care for the patient and not just in the lobby,” said Stasia Czech Suleiman, IIDA, principal/senior project interior designer at HOK.

Peer to Peer: Practical Advice on Jumpstarting Your Interior Design Career from 4 IIDA Students of the Year

Whether you’re a recent graduate or career shifter, embarking on a new design career can be a daunting task. Polishing your resume and portfolio, asking meaningful questions during the interview, tackling the job search at multiple angles – we all know it’s hard work that takes time, patience, and confidence. But what exactly does that look like? We reached out to this year’s IIDA Career Bootcamp panelists — four IIDA Student of the Year recipients, including the 2018 Student of the Year — for their practical advice on what has helped them navigate their careers so far. Read on for part one of our interview.

Meet the Panelists

Tara Headley, Associate IIDA, is the 2015 IIDA Student of the Year and recipient of the inaugural award. She is an interior designer at Hendrick, Inc., currently specializing in corporate workplace environments. Tara was born and raised in Barbados and proudly represents her Caribbean heritage through her cooking skills and love of bright colors in her fashion choices. For Tara, designing is a privilege and a means to change the way we see the world.

Amy Leigh Hufford, Associate IIDA, is the 2016 IIDA Student of the Year and is a corporate workplace interior designer at NELSON’s Philadelphia office. When she isn’t working, she’s an active member of the IIDA Philadelphia City Center and PhilaU’s First Five alumni association.

Lindzey Duval, Student IIDA, is the 2017 IIDA Student of the Year and is working as an interior design coordinator at HDR in Chicago where she currently focuses on corporate and healthcare environments. Lindzey moved to Chicago in July of 2017 after completing her bachelor’s degree at Texas State University. She is a passionate designer who is dedicated to creating memorable, human-centered designs that have a positive and lasting impact.

Allison Brown, Student IIDA, is the 2018 IIDA Student of the Year and graduate of Utah State University. Allison’s dedication and eagerness to learn have helped her to graduate magna cum laude and become LEED Green Associate. She starts her career as a professional designer at the New York office of Perkins + Will in September.

Approaching the Interview

Tara: The most important thing to me is to be genuinely interested in the job. I know sometimes we need to take positions that aren’t our top picks, but if that’s the case, find something about the position or firm that you can get behind. If you can’t find anything, chances are you wouldn’t thrive there anyway and should maybe look elsewhere.

That said, if you can go into the interview with a sense of the company, it’s values and what they expect of you for your position, you are at an advantage to further the conversation beyond a typical interview. Definitely use this information to tailor your responses. One surefire way to show them that you’re the right candidate is to relate your portfolio/skills to how you can help the firm. For example, if you find out that the firm does renderings by hand and you have that skill, be sure to highlight that and mention how you can be an asset in that regard.

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Lindzey: Research information about the firm in advance of the interview. I’m not just talking about looking on their “About Us” page on their website. You can tell a lot about a firm from their graphics and how they showcase their work and themselves online. Find something that connects with your interests and have it in your back pocket to discuss during your interview. People can talk about themselves all day long in an interview, but a successful interview is when it turns into more of a conversation.

Amy: I’ve always felt that a good approach here is by tailoring your questions, conversation topics, and personal information (resume, portfolio, cover sheet) to that particular position at that company. That way you’ll be prepared before you arrive – there’s no need to only show an employer at a hospitality firm only hospitality-based projects, you can show them a breadth of work that you feel can drive a conversation about your varied skills that would make you an asset to that employer, doing that type of work.

Networking When You’re An Introvert

Allison: I think going with a friend or coworker or student can really alleviate the stress and nervousness of attending a networking event. Then, you know someone there and you can branch out little by little and network with other people at the event. I would agree that it’s scary, but you’ve just got to do it because it’s so important for your future! 

Amy: I personally feel like introversion and shyness are two different things, and you can tackle them both in specific ways. I’m an introvert, but I’m not shy. I feel that introverts are typically people who, by choice, spend a lot of time alone and don’t reveal a lot about themselves to others. Shy individuals are often uncertain of how to start conversations and sometimes keep them going once they’ve begun out of nervousness! For both, I’d suggest starting out by attending more “intimate” events. For example, in Philadelphia, we have events that draw crowds of nearly 300 and events with only 10 people. I think starting small helps to make connections and relationships, so at larger events you already know some people to talk to. General advice for introverts might be to come up with some talking points before attending events, so if the conversation begins to run out, you have a follow-up. “Have you read any good books lately?” is just an example and people often run with it.

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Lindzey: I have come to realize that many people in our industry are more introverted like myself, which may seem surprising because it is a very social industry. I found it easy to just start with a few people. Find people that have similar interests and that you enjoy being around. Then start branching out to meet more people to expand your network. There is no rush to know everyone. Developing your network connections is just as important has growing it.

Tara: As an introvert, I relate to this on a personal level. Introversion is only a setback if you let it be. I get mentally drained by being in social settings, meeting people, etc., which is true for most introverts. But what you need to tell yourself is that networking is for the betterment of your career. I started out by forcing myself to attend as many events as possible. I found that once I got over that initial hurdle, it became easier as time went on. The more you go, the more connections you make. And the industry is one where you can make friends and acquaintances easily. By the fourth or fifth time, you will walk into a room and know at least one other person you’ve met before. Volunteering at organizations like IIDA is also a great way to give back as well as meet people in a more casual way.

Cultivating Your Brand

Lindzey: Branding yourself on paper is a challenge! Our resumes and portfolios are the most important tangible items that we have to showcase ourselves and our work. Something I like to keep in the back of my head is less is more. Over branding yourself from a visualization perspective can be distracting to someone who is looking at your work. It is okay to have a little fun and embed your personality, though! Just be careful not to overdo it.

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Amy: I recently had a conversation with some professionals with 15+ years of experience that are also in a position to hire. They were saying they feel that students straight out of school brand themselves too much, which I thought was fascinating! A simple resume with a small touch of personality, as well as a matching portfolio and cover letter, are plenty. Photos on resumes and cover letters were discouraged, as well as a large amount of color and script fonts.

Tara: I feel like good graphic design goes hand in hand with what we do as interior designers. Understanding placement, alignment, and hierarchy is important in any presentation, and this is what I look for in a good portfolio package. A common element that ties the portfolio, resume, cover letter, and business card together is key, but what is also of equal importance is to not get carried away with creating a cool design that ends up taking away from your actual work. Keeping things simple is always good. Allow your work to take center stage instead of any bold graphics.


Stay tuned for part two of our interview coming soon. For more resources on starting your interior design career, visit the IIDA Career Bootcamp page.

5 IIDA Student Members Share Their Memorable Moments from the IIDA Student Conference

Last year, the Trustees of the IIDA Foundation added a new initiative to the Designing for the Future Campaign: A portion of the funds raised from the campaign sponsored five IIDA Student Members for an all-expenses paid trip to the 2018 IIDA Texas Oklahoma Chapter’s Student Conference. The annual Student Conference brings together an array of top students, educators, and design industry professionals for a multi-day professional enrichment experience that includes project and firm tours, mock interviews, and a variety of other networking opportunities. Here, these five students talk about what they took away from the experience, the value of portfolio reviews, and what getting outside of your comfort zone can do for yourself and your career.

Making Fast Friends

With my sponsorship from IIDA, I was able to attend the 18th annual IIDA Texas Oklahoma Chapter Student Conference, an opportunity I otherwise wouldn’t have financially been able to do. I was the only student from my school and from the state of Utah to attend the conference — I was pretty nervous. However, on the first day, I rode the bus from the hotel to the pep rally at the Haworth showroom. I randomly sat by another student who was also there by herself from Kansas. We realized that we were both recipients of the same sponsorship from IIDA. That evening we met another student from California who had been sponsored to attend the conference and we all quickly became friends.

I participated in the portfolio review and mock interviews. I was nervous but I was paired with incredible designers who were very genuine, talented, and eager to help me. They gave me great feedback and comments on my portfolio and how to interview with ease.

Allison Newell, Student IIDA, Utah State University, Inter Mountain Chapter

Realizing What You Want to Focus On 

I’ve always been told that to be the best designer, you have to walk out on a limb, make that extra effort, and step out of your comfort zone. Well, in my two years of traveling from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to Houston and Dallas, I can say that this conference has taught me some of the most valuable and interesting lessons about being the best designer I can be!

This year my experience was nothing short of amazing. Each year the Texas/Oklahoma Chapter make us Alabama students feel so welcome with their generosity and hospitality. Seriously, these volunteers who put together this conference give their hearts and souls to making this the most educational and rewarding experience for students. I have always known that I wanted to be a commercial designer, however, it was at last year’s student conference that I realized I wanted to focus on corporate and office design and create spaces that make work environments enjoyable.

Carmen Jenkins, Student IIDA, University of Alabama, Alabama Chapter

Surrounding Yourself with Passionate People

This was my first time ever attending the IIDA Student Conference. I’ll admit that I had no idea what to expect but the whole time being there was such a learning experience because I got to meet so many students that were just like me who knew what it was like to stay late in the studio to complete projects. It was so inspiring to see how passionate other people are about interior design, why they chose this career path, and what they are striving to be. There was so much to take in and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Nicolle Soriano, Student IIDA, Chaminade University of Honolulu, Hawaii Pacific Chapter

Learning How to Stand Up for Your Design

Any professional that I met, I made sure to grab their business cards. If they didn’t have one, I took a picture of their name tag. I now have a phone full of name tags and business cards. Each one of the professionals encouraged us to tap into their resources, ask them questions, email them about products, ideas, resumes, portfolios, etc. They wanted to help us succeed.

Our keynote speaker for the event, Primo Orpilla, co-founder of the firm Studio O+A, left all of us with some very wise words. He told us to find our voice, define our narrative, leverage space types to building flexibility, and to customize and curate success. We need to be in control of the design. Stand up for our design. We need to understand the things that make the space a memorable experience. Have empathy for the client and the space, not sympathy. He concluded his talk by reminding us that our design can change attitudes and how the users treat one another. Your designs have an impact!

Kellie DeVries, Student IIDA, Michigan State University, Michigan Chapter

The Power of a Portfolio Review

Our final day was loaded with panels and speakers, filling my head with very valuable information about stepping out into the world after school successfully. The best part of my day, however, was the portfolio review. After two conversations with a very kind Susan Bellson from JSI she pulled me over and set me up to do my review with Elizabeth Trupiano from Corgan and I got very lucky with that. Elizabeth asked great questions of me, listened intently and gave helpful critiques, and then sat and answered all of my questions until we ran out of time. I loved making friends and connections that I’m sure will last me years.

Chelsea Bainbridge, Student IIDA, Kansas State University, Mid America Chapter


To learn more about IIDA student membership, including professional development and leadership opportunities, visit iida.org.

The Power of Mentorship: 3 IIDA Student Members Share Their Experiences

Research shows that mentoring can help ensure the academic and professional success of students and protégés. Mentorship is especially crucial now as employers recognize the need to engage and retain millennials. Every year, IIDA pairs thousands of students and mentors for a day of job shadowing through the annual IIDA Student Mentoring Program. Networking opportunities and career insights are expected, but bridging the gap between generations has become an added and significant benefit of the program. After last year’s Student Mentoring Program, we caught up with three students to get their take on how the program impacted them and what lessons they’ll be taking as they embark on their professional design careers.

Mentoring Motivated Me to Build My Professional Network

Student: Krista Neerdaels, interior architecture student, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Mentor: Jamie Carley, Flad Architects, Madison, Wisconsin

There were three of us who attended the mentoring day together. [Our mentor Jamie] spent time showing us the types of projects she was working on, walked us through the programs they use, and gave us insight on what a typical day is like for her.  We then went out for lunch, and afterwards she set up a few meetings with people who work in different departments at Flad. Later, we discussed specifics on how to move into the professional world—advice on resumes, interview etiquette, and portfolios.

An important aspect about Flad that I appreciated was that the designers, architects, and engineers all work in the same space, so all departments are involved when a project begins. I believe it is very important to have integration of design and architecture as soon as possible for the benefit of the final product. The mentorship experience also motivated me to continue building my professional network to gain even more confidence about my future. It was an inspiring day that encouraged me to find a company that is the perfect fit for me.

Mentoring Intensified My Passion for Design

Student: Heba Toulan Pennington, interior design student, Houston Community College

Mentor: Catrina Wyrick, Abel Design Group, Houston, Texas

I signed up for the [Student Mentoring Program] to gather a full understanding of how interior design/architecture functions on a daily basis. My mentor and I spent time discussing what a typical work day is. Then, we went to a construction site to see how the contractor works with the architect. My favorite part of the day was the session where we covered building codes in elevations and plans.

The program intensified my passion for design. I came away inspired and intrigued by the process of designing.

Mentoring Solidified My Career Path as a Designer

Student: Jonathan Butler-Knutson, interior design student, University of Minnesota

Mentor: Maren Idso, NELSON Upper Midwest, Minneapolis, Minnesota

My favorite part of the [Student Mentoring Program] was being able to see what it is like to visit a site and let the space help inform design solutions. After receiving a quick overview of her project work, Maren and I, along with her coworker Matt, walked to Gaviidae, a five-story geometric art deco style structure that is part of the Minneapolis downtown skyways system. Upon arrival, we noted that there was very little foot traffic on the first floor. The second floor, bustling with traffic, drew its occupants from the skyway system to the retail and restaurants that are present in the space. There was a complete lack of business presence on the third and fourth floor, and only about 25 percent occupancy on the fifth floor.

After recognizing some of the issues that had been amplifying the issue of low tenant occupancy, the three of us sat down and worked through a plan of a potential tenant space. The best part of the experience was how willing Maren was to let me assist her. After arriving back at the office, she let me sit down and rework the plan in Revit based on my suggestions.

My mentorship experience solidified my belief that design is the field for me and sparked excitement about the work I will get to do.


The 2017 IIDA Student Mentoring Program is currently underway. If you are a student participating in this year’s program, apply for the Wilsonart Essay Competition for a chance to $1,000 and a trip to Chicago during NeoCon 2017. Search #IIDAsmp on Facebook and Instagram to see the Student Mentoring Program in action. 

How To Be a Better Mentee

Every year, IIDA pairs two students with an interior designer for a one-day crash course on a day in the life of a designer. Student Mentoring Week, one of IIDA’s most dynamic program offerings, is the catalyst for many IIDA student members who wish to begin a mentoring relationship with a professional interior designer. By the time this column is published, nearly 500 IIDA student members will have made meaningful connections with the best in the interior design industry. The goal is for the students and their mentors to continue buildings connections like these after the
day is over.

There is no doubt that a strong mentoring relationship can play a huge role in a student’s academic and professional success. Numerous studies support the positive effects of mentoring relationships. Many companies like Boeing and Deloitte implement professional mentoring programs to develop and retain younger employees. But if you think mentoring is simply weekly Starbucks dates with a senior-level professional or a quick way to score professional success—including a job—think again.

The reality is that mentoring relationships require a serious investment of time, patience, and effort for both the mentor and mentee. While a mentor’s role is to guide, a mentee’s role holds just as much weight, if not more. Ultimately, you—the mentee—have primary say in your mentoring relationship. You initiate the mentoring relationship, you are responsible for nurturing it, and you can end it. Here are some tips to help you in your quest to find a mentor and be the mentee that mentors want.

Define the Relationship
Mentorship is a word that conjures many notions and expectations.

Some students come into a mentoring relationship expecting their mentor to offer them a job or provide them lifelong coaching without first determining if the partnership is a good one. Have a strong definition of what mentorship means to you and use that when seeking teachers, designers, peers, and work colleagues you admire and pursue. If you’re having trouble identifying what you want from your relationship, ask yourself:

  • Do I want to emulate my mentor’s career or am I looking for someone who will act like a trusted friend?
  • Do I want someone who will help me search for educational and life opportunities in addition to career opportunities?
  • How long do I want my mentor in my life? Do I want someone who knows me enough to write a sufficient letter of reference or do I want someone who will be a guiding figure throughout my entire career?

Be proactive in your search for a mentor, considering goals for the relationship and how long it will last. Understand why you need mentorship and how it can help you succeed professionally.

Gain Agreement
Once you have your mentorship goals in mind, communicate them clearly to your potential mentor and ask what expectations the mentor has. Discuss and decide upon the relationship you want to build together in advance. The most successful mentoring relationships are those founded on clear goals and ground rules. Be upfront—your mentor will thank you.

Seek Multiple Mentors
Traditionally, mentoring relationships are characterized by a two-person model with a senior person discussing a student’s goals, needs, weaknesses, and accomplishments. In a perfect world, one person is enough to help you tackle all your concerns. But can you really have just one mentor? You will most likely need multiple mentors of various ages, skills, and traits to guide you with each of your needs.

Research on mentoring relationships and programs shows that mentoring is most effective when the mentee has a diverse constellation of mentors, from a traditional primary mentor to peer and short-term ones as well. Do you aspire to be an interior designer with your own firm? Consider reaching out to both an interior designer and a business owner. Each person brings different perspectives and wisdom. Take your search further—explore outside your boundaries and tap into the networks of your friends and colleagues.

Do Your Homework and Invest
Prepare for each meeting with your mentor as if it’s a task for your job. Dress professionally. Show up on time with a notebook and pen, ready to listen and take notes. Research your mentor’s interests, ask questions, and talk about the why behind the answers. Share your portfolio.

Mentoring is a two-way street. Go beyond “checking in” and give your mentor opportunities to offer insight and advice. As you get to know your mentor, think of ways you can add value to the relationship. Bring up a recent news story or study that you think would be of interest or provide your mentor a new networking connection.

Be Open
Your mentor will challenge you. Giving you honest feedback is his or her job. Come into the relationship appreciating that there is a chance you will reexamine your goals and consider new ideas. While setting clear goals and objectives at the beginning of the relationship is crucial, also realize that these goals and objectives may change as the relationship progresses.

Be Honest
Do you get along with your mentor? If the fit doesn’t feel right, bow out. Mentoring should be established as no-fault relationship where either you or your mentor can end it for good reason at any time without risk of harm to your respective careers.

When done right, mentoring is a powerful tool that can change careers and lives. So be fearless in what you want and humble when someone agrees to be your mentor. You’ll be surprised by how much people want to help you if you just ask for it.


This post was originally published in Interiors & Sources.