We’ve all heard the expression that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
In our current business environment, being top notch at your job and sitting around waiting to be lauded, rewarded, and promoted won't really cut it. What you know is important, but who you know can really fast-forward your career.
I’m talking about finding sponsors, also known as advocates.
What’s the difference between having a mentor and having a sponsor? According to Sylvia Ann Hewlett, CEO of The Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) and author of Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast-Track Your Career, “A mentor gives you friendly advice. A sponsor is senior in your organization or world and has the power to get you that next job.”
In other words, a sponsor is someone who will advocate directly for you. He or she will put forth your name for that job, mention your brilliant work to someone important, and help open doors on your behalf that you could never get a toe into on your own.
Sounds great, but how does one actually go about finding a sponsor? Why would someone want to sponsor you, and what do you do with this person once you find him or her? That’s where your stellar performance comes into play.
Before anyone will sponsor you, he or she must truly believe in you, your abilities, your potential, and your trustworthiness.
Remember, sponsorship is not a one-way street. By supporting you and your endeavors, your sponsor will be hoping that you will make him or her look good. Everyone likes to back a winner. Your sponsor’s reputation is on the line when he or she advocates for you or recommends you for that dream job. So don’t betray your sponsor’s trust in you!
Remember -- stellar performance. If you need to amp up your performance in either your hard or soft (people/communication/leadership) skills, be proactive about getting the help and training you need.
As Hewlett says, “Star performers are very likely to attract sponsors, and loyal performers are very likely to keep them.”
Here are five tips to find and keep your perfect sponsor:
- Carefully consider your career goals and the next steps you need to take.
- Determine who is able to help you make those next steps and wind up where you want to be in your company or industry.
- If you already have someone in mind, find ways to build on your relationship. If you don’t know anyone, then it’s on you to make the initial contact. Keep it light, friendly, and appropriate. (Do not say, “I’m calling to ask you to be my sponsor so I can finally get the title and salary I deserve.”) Remember the principles of networking -- it needs to be of value to both parties.
- Move from contact to connection to relationship. Stay in touch, sending information of interest, looking for ways you can be helpful. Meet with the person; let him or her know what you have accomplished. In other words, stay top of mind, build a relationship, and provide value.
- Be stellar! Validate your sponsor’s support of you by representing yourself with distinction. And why not pay it forward? Look for other rising stars whom you might want to sponsor.
Finding sponsors who can advocate for you is truly the way of the business world, and really does work!