Mentoring means not only using the intern's services to help you in your day-to-day operation, but taking a couple of hours out of your week to teach her or him your area of expertise. The experience is invaluable to the intern, and it can be rewarding for both of you. Over the past years I have had several interns work for me, and I have always found the experience a very positive one. Naturally, you have to choose someone who will fit in and be cooperative, dependable and conscientious.
Mentoring, after all, is not a new concept. It has been around for centuries in a different form. Apprenticeships to learn a trade or craft have been offered for years as a way for a senior to pass on his or her learning to the next generation. Unfortunately, every decade we lose more craftspeople because these finely honed skills are not being passed on. Then, a period of time passes and someone wants to learn the craft but has to start from scratch.
It isn't always easy to find interns or apprentices; but when you have the opportunity to help someone learn a new skill and show that willing person the nuances it has taken you years to acquire, there comes a wonderful feeling of satisfaction.
My field of experience is interior design, and it happens to be a field in which many people are interested. Many years ago I used to present career orientation programs at the junior and high schools for a company I worked for. It was a community service they provided. Interior design was one of the most asked for topics to be covered, and the kids loved to hear about it.
In my field I always felt it necessary to discourage the students somewhat, knowing that only the most determined would be able to survive. I always told them it was a very grueling profession requiring a lot of physical stamina. I also told them I had been trained more as an artist, and my business experience was learned the hard way.
I told them that one of the main realities I had to deal with in my profession was that no design I created, however wonderful, ever amounted to anything unless someone put out their hard earned dollars for it. In other words, you have to sell your ideas. And then you have to modify them to please the person buying it. This is a hard lesson to learn. In teaching an intern I try to stress it because I know how crucial it is to their survival in this very tough business.
The Design Business
Every trade, craft or profession has good and bad sides to it. I believe that someone who is studying and trying to develop a career deserves to know everything they will have to face so they can prepare for it. Today, more than ever, many psychologists and doctors seem to stress the importance of working in a field in which you receive emotional satisfaction as well as monetary reward in order to live a happier, more fulfilled life and reduce illness and stress.
I don't suppose it even crosses a young design student's mind that all the glamour of being an interior designer has another side to it. And while I have been trying for years to wake up the design schools to the importance of teaching their students about business, it still is the most neglected aspect of their training. The schools turn out hundreds of graduates each year, and so many never practice design because their business skills are so weak. Internships are an excellent way for them to become aware of the business side of design.
There are many ways to contribute to your profession and society. Mentoring can be a win-win situation for everyone.
Diane Darvas is the owner of Beautiful Windows Ltd., Highland Park, IL. She offers a complete design service for residential and commercial clients.