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Tips for Finding the Perfect Mentor: An Interview with Kim Pollok

How do you get advice that can actually help further your professional development? Get a mentor!

Great, but how do you go about getting a mentor? Who should you approach and what should you expect? I recently sat down with Kim Pollok, SVP of Operations for SWBC PEO, to get the scoop on the process of finding the perfect mentor to help guide your career.

Q: When is the right time in your career to find a mentor?

Pollok: I think having a mentor throughout your career is important from the very beginning into your retirement phase. If you are lucky, you will have several mentors throughout your career because they will share their experience or expertise with you in terms of setting career goals, making good career choices, and helping you grow on a professional and personal level.

Before setting out to find a mentor, you’ll want to make sure you understand your own career goals so you can identify the best mentor to help you achieve them.

Q: How do you start looking for a mentor?

Pollok: Network, network, network! Ask peers, friends, or your current manager for recommendations on new connections, join online mentoring networks, and check to see if your company has a mentoring program.

You will most likely find your mentor somewhere within your networking circle. Research leaders in your industry or leaders whose traits you admire. Create a list of people who seem to be a good fit for you, but also keep in mind you may want someone who is very different from you, as it could bring another perspective into your life and your career goals.

Q: How do you reach out to a potential mentor?

Pollok: I think you first must introduce yourself to them in an email or on a phone call. Do your research on their career and accomplishments. Then, explain where you are in your career, your career goals, and why you would like to ask them to mentor you. You also want to be sure the person has the time to be a mentor—oftentimes they are very busy, and you want to be sensitive to their time constraints. Keep in mind, some may decline because of their schedule or workload and that is to be expected. Don’t give up if your offer is declined; continue reaching out to other recommendations.

Q: Does your mentor need to work at the same company or in the same industry as you?

Pollok: If you plan to stay in the same industry, then finding someone within your industry and company can be beneficial. The good thing about being mentored by someone from the same company is you have company culture and goals in common and this person is well placed to lead you on the right path to help you meet your career goals.

On the flip side, I am all for gaining new perspectives from people outside my own industry and organization. It may not help you with a specific job-related goal, but it could help you with growth and development in your long-term career and for you as a person or employee.

Q: What does an ideal mentor/mentee relationship look like in practice?

Pollok: Each mentor/mentee relationship is different, but building rapport with each other is important on both sides. Being open and honest and establishing trust are also crucial elements of the relationship.

You’ll want to discuss expectations like how often you will meet, whether it will be in-person or virtual, and for how long. For example, when I meet with my mentor, we meet one hour each month and typically they are in person.

Prepare for the meeting by having questions to ask, situations to discuss, or follow-up from the prior meeting. It is also your responsibility to schedule the next follow-up meeting; do not wait for your mentor to schedule.

To reduce awkwardness during the first few meetings, I recommend letting the conversation flow and understand there will be times that you may not get all your questions answered but you can save them for the next meeting. Be sure to articulate your career goals. Always thank them for their time.

Q: How has working with a mentor influenced your career?

Pollok: As a female business leader, I think it is not only important to grow professionally but also to learn how to balance wellness, family, and having a personal life. Over a year ago, I reached out to someone who is a visionary in the business world to discuss the possibility of mentorship. I was honored when she agreed and it has been one of the best years of growth for me with my professional and personal goals.

My mentor taught me to be a fearless leader and we worked on ways to be comfortable in my own skin—even in the face of critics. She also taught me the importance of speaking up and having a seat at the table. I knew I had the perfect mentor when I was excited to meet with her again the next month.

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Amanda Harr

A graduate of the Plan II Honors program at UT Austin, Amanda Harr is the Content Manager for SWBC. A clever wordsmith who appreciates artful persuasion and authenticity in writing, Amanda uses a structured creative process to craft marketing strategies, develop communications solutions, and deliver top-notch content.

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