A mentor is a person who helps you develop the strategies to progress through your career by offering advice, answering questions and sharing opportunities he or she may be aware of. A sponsor is someone who can directly impact your career progression by advocating on your behalf within your current organization or with professional peers. For example, a mentor is someone you go to for day-to-day advice who has experience in an area you are interested in. A sponsor however, is a person who is influential and highly visible at a company. They put in a good word for you when an opportunity like a promotion arises. They promote your abilities within your organization and add to your credibility. Both mentors and sponsors are important, but finding a sponsor will impact how you climb the career ladder.
Finding a Sponsor
1. Clarify your goals.
Where do you want to go within your organization and with your career? What are the steps that will help you get there? By clarifying what you want and how you will achieve that goal, you are able to then identify what person will be most fit to vouch for you when those opportunities arise. If you want a promotion, to work in a different division, or be assigned to some high visibility projects, you need to strategically plan and communicate those goals and desires to the right people. You must do some self-promotion up front, so that you are top of mind and can start nurturing the relationships that will get you there.
2. Identify the influential person in the company whose opinion is respected and valued. Once you have identified who this person is, whether it be a director, manager or vice president, find key opportunities to connect with them informally and build a positive working relationship. One way to connect is to invite the person for lunch or coffee, or volunteer to assist with projects that they are leading.
3. Nurture your relationship. By gaining visibility and access to the sponsor, you position yourself to be able to share information about your accomplishments, capabilities and goals. If the thought of speaking to your managing director or vice president makes you cringe, you need to evaluate how determined you are to reach your goal. As a young professional, you must start feeling comfortable about connecting with those who are older or even a different gender than you are for the sake of career advancement. You don’t ever communicate to the sponsor that you consider them a “sponsor,” or you can risk them being offended by your ulterior motives to connect with them. Sponsorship occurs naturally by nurturing a relationship built on respect, communication and your ability to perform.
As you finish reading this post, take some time to clarify your goals and identify potential sponsors within your company. Make a commitment to reach out to them to offer your assistance on a project or connect over lunch or coffee. Remember that building a relationship takes time and deliberate effort, but it is one of the greatest assets to have and skills to master.