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You Need a Sponsor, and Here's Why

Estimated reading time ~ 3 min
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There is no one size fits all approach when it comes to mentorship and finding spaces that foster career development, so it’s important to use as many tools that are available in order to prioritize your professional growth. A popular discussion—when having conversations about career development—is the ambiguity of mentorship and its many different forms. Interestingly enough, most people see mentorship as a monolith, and are not aware of the less popular term “sponsorship” in your career and what that actually means. Let’s dive into the difference between mentorship and sponsorship and why you should have both.

The difference between mentorship and sponsorship

We define mentorship as an experienced and trusted adviser who offers support and guidance in your professional endeavors. Sponsorship—as it relates to mentoring—is when a mentor advocates for their proteges. In essence, you cannot have sponsorship without mentorship, but mentorship doesn’t necessarily mean that you are also being sponsored. A mentor can be anyone in a position of experience, while a sponsor is a senior-level executive or leader who is able to advocate for your growth especially focusing on financial and title growth. A person who is truly your sponsor is able to create an opportunity for you that would not be accessible on your own. Which brings us to the reason why it is so important to have sponsorship. Sponsors might have discussions about you to other senior members in your company and they are able to navigate in the professional space as an ally and cosigner with the end goal of landing you an opportunity. They are in positions of authority where they are able to bring solutions to the table as opposed to a mentor who typically brings guidance.

How to identify a sponsor

At times, the lines tend to get blurred when comparing the impact of both mentorship and sponsorship. Depending on your professional goals, it will determine which one should be more of a priority in your network. Oftentimes, people need both and generally speaking it is common for mentor and sponsor relationships to collide. However, one clear indication of a sponsor is influence and professional authority. If you are seeking sponsorship, the best route to take is to look within your own company or any professional programs you are a part of. The goal here is to connect with someone who has the intentions to advance your career.

Important things to remember when having conversations about your career with a potential sponsor

There’s a misconception that being straightforward about what you want and what opportunities you’re looking for comes off as being opportunistic. It’s important to know that there are ways to navigate that conversation in order to be more successful in your networking approach.

  1. Rule of thumb: be honest. Honesty will get you a lot further than you think.
  2. Be realistic about your skill set and open to feedback from people that are more advanced in their careers.
  3. Try asking questions about how they got to where they are. Make sure you’re sharing your goals with them and where you want to see growth within the company or your career.
  4. Always remember to be solution oriented as much as possible. Perhaps try creating a timeline for yourself of the trajectory you’d like to see in your career and be open to sharing it with a potential sponsor.

What does a successful sponsorship relationship look like?

There’s many different ways that this can look, but most importantly, it should be contingent on the influence of your sponsor. Keep in mind that your fulfilled goals with your sponsor should be as immediate as possible and tangible. As a next step, try looking deeper into your career goals and create a growth plan for yourself that you feel confident sharing. Start with that, and then start networking your way to a future career coach.

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