Everyone looks for a mentor, but what you don’t know is that having an internal sponsor as well is a very important key to having a prosperous career. Whether you’re in an entry-level role or a higher position, a great combination of both mentors and sponsors positions you for career growth and success.
Who is a sponsor?
While a mentor is usually someone you turn to for career advice, a sponsor is a person within the company that promotes your work internally and always has your back. Usually, sponsors are co-workers at any level that appreciate and promote you and your work. Your sponsor is someone who finds every opportunity to share examples of the great work you’ve done and promotes you within the organization. They believe in you, and because of that, they’re willing and ready to help advance your career.
How can you get a sponsor?
Sponsors often select you! Sponsorships are formed by working with others and having positive relationships, they aren’t usually pre-arranged. Sponsorship is a practice, and sometimes people don’t even know they are a sponsor, even though they are acting as one. You can — and should — have more than one person within the organization as your sponsor, so it’s important to meet and build positive relationships with as many people within the company as possible.
Building these relationships should be a priority. In my experience as both a sponsor and someone who has been sponsored throughout my career, I’ve found that the best way for someone to find a sponsor is to consistently deliver results and collaborate with all levels of the organization. It’s important to work with people outside of management. By volunteering to be on strategic projects and taking on stretch assignments, it helps you to build meaningful relationships with key stakeholders in the business.
So, why do you need a sponsor?
1. They promote you to others with in the company
A sponsor is your biggest promoter. Often, a sponsor will be someone who has influence in company decisions, so it’s great to have someone on your side who is always putting in a good word for you.
2. They defend you if negative comments arise
Say you didn’t do so great on a project, and now, a group of your colleagues are talking about it. If you have a sponsor who is in that conversation, they will stand up for you. Negative comments can spread fast and harm your career, so it’s helpful to have someone who can stop them before they start.
3. Sponsors give helpful feedback
Advice from your sponsor can be extremely valuable. They are your go-to source within the company for key information, like unwritten rules, corporate history and culture. They also will offer advice on appearance and executive presence. Having someone willing to offer you candid feedback will help you continue on the right career path.
4. They always want you on the team
Having a sponsor is a great way to get to work on important projects. A sponsor will bring up your name when a team is being created since they believe in your work and always think you’ll be a great asset.
5. A sponsor helps you grow your career
Most likely, your sponsor will have credibility, influence and hiring authority at upper levels within the company. When it comes time for promotions and raises, your sponsor will advocate for you and the work you’ve done. Having someone at that level who truly believes in you will open up many doors for career growth and opportunities.
For me, sponsorships have played a major part in my career. My best sponsor was a senior leader when I was a new manager. When he first joined the business from a competitor, and shared his strategy and plans for the company, I could tell right away that we shared values. From that point on, I would engage him in casual conversation about the business and my career. Whenever I was in meetings with him and the rest of the leadership team, I would make sure I delivered the results and was always collaborative in my approach. As my career grew, he became my mentor and internal sponsor. I know that I was able to grow to a leadership position in a company with over 150,000 employees because he was mentoring and sponsoring my career growth.