Professional connections are key to career advancement. Mentors help provide guidance, coaching, and training to support your progress. Having a sponsor at work gives you an extra advantage; an edge that gets you noticed, keeps you challenged, and leads to promotion.
As Carla Harris explains in her brilliant TedTalk, working in a meritocracy is not always what we expect it will be. The challenge faced in many workplaces is that decisions are made subjectively more often than objectively. Your mentor is someone who can help you navigate within the organization and speak for your behind closed doors.
As Carla puts it, “I cannot tell you how important it is to have a sponsor. It is the critical relationship in your career. A mentor, frankly, is a nice to have, but you can survive a long time in your career without a mentor, but you are not going to ascend in any organization without a sponsor.”
According to this 2019 PayScale survey, 56.7% of all workers have a workplace champion. The percentage was higher for higher-level employees. The research estimates that people with sponsors earn more than those without one. Finding an effective promotor with clout and compatibility represented a higher boost in pay and long-term career development.
Here are three things you need to know about finding someone willing to become your sponsor.
- You must perform well at work. Raise your hand and step up for big responsibilities. Shine in your department by taking on project leadership. Credibility and a legitimate work ethic coupled with your skills are what you need to gain real exposure and showcase your competence. Good performance is the foundation for promotions.
- You need to identify the right type of sponsor. Your choice should have the following characteristics: They need to be decision-makers with cross-company credibility and the power to position you with the right people. They must know about your work. They should be the type of leader who cares about talent development and helping people advance.
- Develop a connection with the right type of leader by working directly under them. This allows earning their respect with stellar performance. To this end, take on a project working directly under your potential sponsor, sign up for a committee with that person, or seek out any other opportunity to prove your worth. The goal is to build a relationship where a key player will notice you and value your work.
Once you’ve proven your work value and made the right connections, you’ll need to ask for sponsorship. Sometimes it’s enough to share your career goals with your manager, who then may suggest a match. Ask them which company leaders they would suggest you approach; enlist their support. With a skilled manager, they are already clued into your career goals and may provide great access to the right mentor, and may volunteer themselves.
It’s not always that organic. You might have to approach one or more people and ask someone directly for their support. Be upfront and provide proof of your capabilities with your request by identifying what you’ve already accomplished, how you’re committed to the organization and your preparation to do and contribute more to the company.
Your mentor will want the best opportunity for you; so knowing your strengths and being vocal about your goals will help you find and work well with a mentor.