June 23, 2011
Posted by Joan V. Gallos
Previous posts explored the importance of a good sponsor for accelerating your career. How do you find one?
To over-simplify, there are four steps: (1) figure out what you need and want from a sponsor, (2) find someone who matches your needs, (3) find ways to demonstrate your competencies, and (4) ask persuasively for his or her support.
A sponsor is different from a mentor. Mentors offer informal advice and coaching, while sponsors are high-power, high-credibility people in positions to open doors for you. Both can be important for career success, but you’re asking a sponsor to lay his or her reputation on the line for you.
For that reason, sponsors are harder to come by. Don’t let that discourage you. With preparation, time, and effort you can find one – or more – and the process of proactively cultivating a sponsor itself can be helpful and growth-filled. Research [see preceding posts] indicates it’s worth the investment.
I’ve got ten tips for facilitating the process. Five outline the homework you’ll need to do to get things started. Those are discussed below.
Five others help build and sustain a mutually satisfying sponsorship relationship. Those will be discussed in my next post.
Let’s get started. You have everything to gain – and little to lose – if you approach the process thoughtfully and professionally.
Part 1: Doing Your Homework
1. Get clarity about your preferred career path. Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? What jobs and organizations best fit your needs? It’ll be easier to identify significant others and talk with them persuasively when you have clarity about where you’re heading.
2. Decide what you want from a sponsor. Are you looking toward a job in someone’s department? Do you want a broader perspective on your industry? Do you seek a recommendation from a power player? Do you want access or an introduction to some movers and shakers? It’ll be easier to ask when you know what you are asking for.
3. Define your personal style and communications strategy. The more you know about how you relate to others and how others see you, the better your chance of finding a sponsor with whom you easily click. Mentors and sponsors can take pleasure in helping someone whom they see as like them.
4. Define your assets and demonstrate your contributions. Where are your skills? What career experiences best demonstrate your capacities? Where are your competitive advantages? You’ll need to develop a compelling narrative about yourself before approaching a sponsor, and you’ll only be able to do that after you’ve taken an honest inventory of what you’ve done, what you enjoy doing, and what you bring to the table. It’ll help if your sponsor has already seen you in action at work or in the volunteer community or if someone your intended sponsor trusts has already sung your praise. How can you make that happen?
And remember, all relationships are reciprocal: what are the professional benefits for a sponsor in supporting you? That’s something you’ll want to share.
5. Develop a broad list of possible sponsor candidates. Who do you know that you admire? Who has the clout or contacts you seek? Who could serve as a role model? Who exhibits the values you respect? Think broadly and beyond a boss or people you already know well. Finding a sponsor is a good way to network with powerful people – and that in itself is valuable.
Be prepared to approach multiple people. Not everyone may be ready or willing to help. You might even want multiple sponsors in different parts of your life – a workplace sponsor, for example, and one to provide connections to important civic boards and key volunteer activities. Expect refusals – and don’t take them personally! Good sponsors are busy people – and can be terrific sources of referrals.