Experts estimate that 70% to 80% of jobs are filled without ever being advertised. It is clear that being connected to people who are hiring and promotion decision-makers has become key to advancing a career, but what’s the best strategy for making those genuine connections?
Oftentimes, people seek out inspirational mentors to help guide their careers, and while mentors are arguably a must-have in today’s professional landscape, they may not be able to help you get promoted in your workplace. What you need right now is a sponsor: someone inside your organization who only knows your strengths and will walk into a meeting, put their reputation on the line and vouch for you when it’s decision-making time.
A mentor is generally a career role model who’s available to give out helpful advice about things like how to maintain work-life balance or when it’s time to move on from your current company. A sponsor, on the other hand, is someone who can be a “when the rubber meets the road” workplace ally to you, either in your current company or at the company you want to work at in the future.
The right sponsor might:
- Jump-start a new career path.
- Grow your network with connections of their own.
- Give you opportunities to shine on important projects.
- Advocate for promotions or raises on your behalf.
- Help you close the gap between where your career is and where you want it to be.
- Create a safety net to ameliorate inevitable failures.
With the pay gap between women and men remaining frustratingly persistent, women, and especially women of color, are at a disadvantage. Researcher Sylvia Ann Hewlett found that men are 46% more likely to have a career sponsor than women, and white people are 63% more likely than people of color to have the same.
Facebook Vice President Deb Liu shared how career sponsors were crucial in her success, giving her opportunities to stretch her skills and prove herself on big, new projects. She says, “Most of my sponsors started as my manager or my manager’s manager. My first . . . trusted me—a relatively new product manager—to help lead the integration between PayPal and eBay. That opportunity that enabled me to eventually lead PayPal’s eBay product team even though I had only a few years of product management experience. Time and time again, she opened doors and accelerated my career.”
So how do you find a sponsor? Here are three actionable steps to finding and developing that crucial relationship:
1. Identify the traits and career level of who you’d like to sponsor you. As Deb Liu notes above, sponsors are often your manager or your manager’s manager whom you connect with. Find someone whose workplace style and values align with yours and who has the ability to help you move forward.
2. Reach out to potential sponsors and schedule informational meetings. In order to begin building this new sponsor relationship, you probably have to be the one to ask first. Reach out to ask for a one-on-one to test the waters and decide if this person’s goals and values might align with your own.
3. Ask for regular meeting time. For any genuine relationship to develop, it takes time and effort. Setting up a regular meeting time helps ensure that this relationship-building time actually happens.
As with any other relationship, a sponsor/sponsee relationship requires that both parties benefit in some way. Although the sponsee may be the one receiving the most obvious benefits, sponsors actually do benefit themselves, as well. Sponsors have workplace allies advancing their cause in other areas of the organization and the chance to shine themselves when they develop talented new stars. Ultimately, finding a symbiotic sponsor relationship can accelerate your career and support the career of your sponsor, as well.