Having a career sponsor at work is critical if you want to advance your career. It’s not just about what you know but who you know. Many decisions will be made about your career when you aren’t in the room. Sponsorship at work will enable you to have people who are in that room that will advocate on your behalf. That room may be at your current company or at an external company. To advance your career faster, have a sponsor at work and other companies in the industry.
What Is A Sponsor At Work
A sponsor at work is a person who will advocate for you and your career. They are usually more senior in the organization and have an interest in helping you advance your career. Sponsors take a direct role in advocating for their protege and putting their reputation on the line. This includes making introductions to key connections and open doors that otherwise would not be open. Sponsors will recommend you for job openings. See a job you’re interested in? Learn how to ask your sponsor to refer you to a job.
Sponsorship at work is important for everyone, but especially important for women and minorities to advance their careers. Barriers to advancement for women and minorities tend to be structural and rooted in unconscious bias. Career sponsorship can help break down these barriers. Sponsors do not need to be the same race or gender. Do look for ways to relate to a potential sponsor though. Is there anyone high up in the organization that graduated from the same college, from the same hometown or share similar hobbies? If not, no fear. Identifying how you can help your boss, peers or cross functional team succeed will also put you on the path to getting sponsors.
Sometimes mentor and sponsor are used interchangeably, but are they the same? No. Sponsors and mentors play key but different roles when it comes to advancing your career.
See Also: How Career Mentors Can Help Advance Your Career
How Do You Get a Sponsor at Work
Sponsor relationships are almost always informal and the relationship takes time to form. Be patient. There are certain steps you can take to fast track sponsorship at work.
One advantage of working for a large corporation as a young professional is leadership development programs. Leadership development programs will give you more visibility to senior leadership in a shorter time period. These leadership development programs tend to be for recent graduates or MBA students. Showing your ability to execute and responsiveness to feedback is critical. This will open the door for receiving advice from leaders in the organization. Continued interactions and continuing to provide value to the business will help turn these relationships into sponsorships.
Another step you can take is asking your manager for visibility to your skip level manager (your manager’s manager). This can include asking for a quarterly or semi- annual 1×1 with your skip level manager and being put on a high visibility project. Your skip level manager has greater responsibility and greater visibility to where the company and organization are going. If you show that you are a strong team member within the organization and share your career aspirations they are more likely to know if there will be an opportunity within the organization that meets your aspirations. They can also give you advice on what areas you should focus on to advance your career.
See Also: 10 Pieces of Career Advice for Young Professionals
How Do You Get a Sponsor For Career Development At Another Company
Finding a sponsor at another company doesn’t have to be difficult. If one of your sponsors leaves your current company and moves to another company all you need to do is maintain contact. You can periodically send them articles you think they’d be interested in, or if you know they have a certain milestone they’ve reached like a child graduating high school reach out to congratulate them. Know their birthday and text them happy birthday every year. This holds true for anyone you consider a sponsor.
Other ways to find a sponsor at another company include networking at conferences, staying in touch with college professors, connecting with the alumni career center at your college and volunteering.
Sponsors at other companies are important as you may get to a point where your current company doesn’t offer opportunities that align to your career aspirations. Employee referrals are the easiest way to get your foot in the door at another company. If you don’t think this is relevant to you now because you’re perfectly happy ask yourself what you’d do if you get passed over for a promotion you deserve?
See Also: Want a High Salary? 10 Tips to Get a Job at a Tech Company
How Do You Know if Someone is Your Sponsor
A career sponsor is a bit more tricky to identify than a mentor as there are few or no formal programs for sponsorship in the workplace. Sponsorship happens more organically and is sometimes easier to spot after the fact. The first sign to look for is if they are introducing you to key contacts in the organization that aren’t directly linked to the work you’re doing.
You’ll also know someone is your sponsor if they advocate for your career when you’re not in the room and you find out after the fact the reason you got a job or project is because X person advocated for you. Another clue is if they reach out to you about an open position on their team or another team they think you’d be a good fit for and are reaching out to identify interest.
If you think someone may be your sponsor, or you would like someone to be your sponsor is to ask if they would advocate for you should a specific opportunity arise in the organization.
How to Ensure A Sponsorship At Work Is Successful
Your career sponsor must know your career goals to advocate for you. In addition, they must also know your limits. For example, are you willing to move for a job? Do you have limitations to how much you can travel? Having limitations is fine but it’s important to be specific with your career goals and limitations so your sponsor can best advocate on your behalf.
There will be many times in your career where there are potential discussions around advancing your career that are happening that you aren’t a part of. Perhaps a reorganization will occur, a new business unit is starting up or someone is leaving the company and none of these situations are announced yet. This is where it’s a must to have a sponsor in the room. They can advocate for you on your behalf.
Why Women Need a Sponsor At Work To Advance Their Careers
Women especially need sponsorship at work to help advance their careers. A Catalyst survey in 2008 found that women were being mentored at a higher rate than the men in their survey yet they were being promoted at a slower pace. They found that high potential women were over mentored and under sponsored relative to their male peers.
The Wall Street Journal recently wrote about women falling behind at work at the first step into management. Getting that first step into management is a huge barrier but you can’t move into upper management without that experience. You need sponsorship at work to help break this barrier. When you have no management experience, someone trusted and higher up needs to advocate that you should either be considered for a manager job, identify people to move underneath you already in the organization or give you reqs to open for new headcount. The more sponsors you have in the room advocating on your behalf, the easier it is to get past this barrier.
How have you leveraged sponsors to advance your career? How did you form your first sponsor relationship?
See Also: How Mentors Can Advance Your Career
Derrick Green says
My manager just came to be and told me he is sponsoring me! I’m 24 African American and he’s white but It’s because I’ve put in the work and been with my company 5 plus years and have made bonus almost every year!
That’s wonderful news, congrats! Especially at age 24 this will really help accelerate your career! That’s around the age I got my first sponsors too and they helped put me in the room (as notetaker at first but you need to start somewhere) which helped me observe how executives interacted and how they presented materials, wrote recommendations for grad school and recommended me for jobs that weren’t posted yet.
My Lifebrarian - A Money and Minimalism Blog says
Really solid post with sound advice for new or EC employees. I have solid mentorship, but I think I would really benefit from a sponsor. I wonder how sponsors translate to the academic sector. I can definitely see how they’re relevant in the business and corporate sector. 🤔 Thanks for sharing these great benefits!
That’s a great point. It probably depends where in the academic sector. If you’re a college professor I would think a sponsor could help with getting a professor on a tenure track and / or involved in a highly visible research project. For teachers, sponsorship could help if they are trying for a change like becoming department chair / moving to administration. I would love to get more feedback here as I’m in the corporate sector and haven’t personally experienced the academic sector/ read much about sponsorships in this sector.
My Lifebrarian - A Money and Minimalism Blog says
I think I’m mixing up workplace mentorship and networking with this concept. But yes, all of these things apply. Great post!
Those are sound recommendations. I had a lot of sponsors that I sought out and after just a little time was spending more time being the sponsor of the most talented younger engineers in our company. My selection criteria for people I would sponsor was achievement. Those with the highest talent and the will to use it to achieve results were the ones whose careers I accelerated. I would try to find better fits for those who were not operating in their zone of genius and had several successes moving people from jobs they were failing at to ones they excelled at. Those might be my best victories looking back over a long career, the success of the people I sponsored or helped redirect to success, that and the fact we always made a priority out of having fun at work. Great post!
That’s awesome! Thank you for sharing your criteria for people you would sponsor and your first hand experience. It is very much appreciated.