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Finding a mentor to learn the ropes when the going gets tough

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Kimberly Svec's first busy season as an accountant could have been her last.

She had joined Sobel & Co., a CPA and business consulting firm in Livingston, in September 2011, and a few months into the new job, it was tax time. Svec said she was tasked with multiple different projects, and she was frazzled. As soon as she acclimated to one, she had to drop everything and switch to another. She wasn't sure how to structure her time to get it all done, and done well.

"I just felt like my schedule, compared to other people, was, like, back and forth," Svec said. "And I just didn't know if that was normal or not."

So she asked for help from other partners at the firm, several of whom have become her mentors.

"They really couldn't change the schedule, because it was already implemented," Svec said. "But in order to get me through it, they made me look at it like a learning curve and saying, 'You're getting so much experience, so take every day and absorb as much as you can.'"

Their advice helped get her through. In fact, Svec said it was critical.

"I probably would have crashed" without it, she said. "I just don't think I would have wanted to be there, because I would have been so stressed."

In industries where women are still a minority, those who have successfully climbed to the upper echelons hail the power of mentorship in giving them an extra boost to the top. Sometimes mentor/protégé relationships are formally sanctioned, with companies doling out mentors to new hires as soon as they come on board. But women can seek them out on their own, taking advantage of the organizations that have sprouted up across a variety of industries.

In Svec's case, she reached out to partners within her firm who could provide specific guidance. But Sobel also paired her with Sally Glick, a principal and chief growth strategist at the firm, to help with Svec's overall professional development.

"Those people that don't get that kind of help do turn over," said Glick.

"When Kim has a problem, she speaks up," she added. "And she holds us accountable to help her succeed."??

Glick has dedicated much of her professional efforts to fostering networking among women in business in the state. She launched Sobel's Executive Women's Breakfast Program, which brings together female professionals from a variety of industries six times a year, and she is a chair of the Liberty Science Center's Women's Leadership Council, which was developed to address a lack of mentors in the science, technology, math and engineering fields.

"Everyone's figured out that they need to offer these kinds of programs," Glick said. "And it's to everyone's advantage. You can't ignore 50 percent of the workforce and think that's a good thing."

E-mail to: maryj@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @mjohns422

Mary Johnson

Mary Johnson

Mary Johnson is a staff reporter covering midsized and growth companies, as well as women in business. Mary lived in Fla., Texas, Conn. and N.Y. before moving to N.J. with her husband and infant son. Email her at maryj@njbiz.com. She is @mjohns422 on Twitter. Read her blog, Breaking Glass.

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