The average worker has at least one person in their life who serves as a mentor. Maybe that person is an executive at another company or a family member who knows the ropes of the business world. Either way, the mentor offers advice and support, serving as a sounding board and career confidant.
That’s all important, but the fact is, even the best mentor may not help you get that promotion you’ve been dying for or a plum job at a different company. For that kind of help, you need someone else. You need a sponsor.
“A mentor offers guidance and support,” says an article from Workopolis. “A sponsor goes to bat on your behalf. The sponsor already works at the company where you want to work or want to get promoted.”
In other words, a career sponsor is someone who will help you move into that new position because they’re in the right spot to put in a good word for you or make sure you get a legitimate shot.
Sounds great, right? But if the idea is new to you, you may wonder how to find such a sponsor. Chances are you don’t already have a good friend who is part of your company’s senior management group.
To create and build a relationship with a career sponsor, you’ll need to lay some groundwork. Here are a few ideas to help:
Like any good relationship, this will take time. Don’t go into the process expecting overnight success. Rather, be thoughtful and deliberate, building camaraderie through action and trust.
It will be much easier to find a good advocate if you’re already doing a great job. Make sure you’re meeting all of your deadlines and exceeding your manager’s expectations. A potential sponsor is much more likely to help you if you’re a proven commodity.
Identify good candidates
Allison Hemming, a career expert and CEO of New York-based talent agency Hired Guns, says in the Workopolis article that you can’t just pick someone out of your company directory. Instead, she says, you should begin by “asking yourself who in my company organization do I want to impress and have a relationship with? You might not be working for the person who will become your sponsor, and you may never work for that person, but how do you increase your engagement with that person? That might require a game plan. … Start building a path to create some relevance between you and that person.”
Plan for a careful conversation
Even if your chosen sponsor is someone who is familiar with you, proceed with caution, as this can be a delicate request, according to an article from Forbes. “If you use this approach, articulate where you’d like to go in your career, the skills you hold, the skills you’re building, and the track record of execution you bring to the table.”
Give something back
Unlike your mentor, your sponsor will expect to receive something in return for the work they do on your behalf. Find out how you can help them advance in their own career, and then follow through by providing that assistance. As noted in a Harvard Business Review article, “Sponsors may advise or steer you, but their chief role is to develop you as a leader. Why? Not so much from like-mindedness or altruism, but because furthering your career helps further their career, organization or vision. Where a mentor might help you envision your next position, a sponsor will advocate for your promotion and lever open the door.”
Remember your goals
If you’re looking for a friend, you may not find one in your sponsor. In fact, you may not like everything they do. That’s OK. “Efficacy trumps affinity; you’re looking not for a friend but an ally,” the Harvard Business Review article says. “Your targeted sponsor may exercise authority in a way you don’t care to copy, but it’s their clout, not their style, that will turbocharge your career.”
Keep building the relationship
Even if you’ve proven your value to the company in the past, you can’t afford to rest on your laurels once you’ve secured a sponsor. Show that you are productive, reliable, and trustworthy, and make them look good at every opportunity. A good sponsor will return the favor.
Again, building rapport with an effective sponsor will take time. You can’t expect to contact them one day and get a promotion the next. But if you are wise and deliberate, setting realistic expectations and helping them while they help you, your sponsor can help you leap over the obstacles that lie between you and your dream job.