You’ve heard a lot about mentoring, and your company may even have a formal mentoring program that matches junior employees with more senior management. In a typical mentoring relationship, mentees are free to ask their mentors questions about work policies, best practices, performance, reviews and more. Mentors, in turn, help guide their mentees through tricky situations at work and provide advice as needed.
Often, though, the mentor/mentee relationship is a passive one. In contrast, a sponsor is an active advocate who seeks out new opportunities for you, uses his or her influence to make sure the right people know about your accomplishments and recommends that you be promoted or given a raise, as appropriate.
A recent study by the Center for Talent Innovation, an organization that focuses on advancing women and minorities, shows that sponsorship “makes a measurable difference in career progress”—for both men and women. This makes sense—in order to get ahead at work, get a promotion or raise, or be considered for the best assignments or client relationships, you need someone advocating on your behalf. Often—especially at a large company—keeping your head down and doing good work isn’t enough to get noticed and considered for these opportunities.
So how do you go about finding a sponsor? Here are some tips to get you started:
Start by doing your absolute best at work. You’ll need to put in the time and effort to be a top performer at work before someone more senior will be willing to put his or her name on the line to advocate for you. Volunteer for difficult projects, make sure your work product is at its absolute finest, and constantly ask yourself what else you could be doing to make your boss’s life easier.
Identify and get to know influencers. It’s easy to get lost in a big company or firm, so introduce yourself to higher-ups. Before you go barging into the CEO’s office, though, make sure you have a logical reason for being there—whether it’s introducing yourself as a new employee or sharing a victory or accomplishment. Once you’ve identified a potential sponsor, volunteer for assignments he or she will be leading.
Attend work events. Again, it’s important to get your name out there to potential sponsors, so if your company hosts a happy hour or other social gathering, do your best to attend. And once you’re there, don’t hang out in the corner with your work buddies (at least not for the whole time). Force yourself to introduce yourself to someone more senior to you. Once you’ve broken the ice outside the office, developing a work relationship will come more naturally.
Ask for a meeting. It’s okay—and recommended—to ask a potential sponsor for a short meeting to discuss your goals. Make sure you’re prepared to discuss your performance and accomplishments thus far, as well as your vision for how you would like your career to develop.
If it’s not working, move on. Companies with formal mentoring programs do their best to match you up with someone more senior, but these relationships are an art, not a science. If you’ve been assigned a mentor but aren’t connecting with him or her, feel free to pursue relationships with other managers or supervisors.