Recognizing the value in a sponsor – a more involved mentor – is the easy part. Mary Shirley offers guidance on how to identify and secure a sponsor to help guide your career development.
For those of us in life sciences industries, sponsorship means paying for the continuing professional education of health care professionals (usually indirectly through health care organizations); if outside of pharmaceuticals, medical device and health care companies, sponsorship means obtaining a marketing/advertising opportunity by sponsoring an event or a team and having your name associated with the tournament, for example.
For the purposes of this article, I’m referring to having a sponsor, which is the title given to someone who assists you in advancing your career and who seeks out opportunities for you.
I was at the Massachusetts Conference for Women recently and attended a session where the distinction was made between a mentor and a sponsor. A mentor is someone who can guide you, help you navigate work politics, teach and inspire you. While very important, a mentor does not always have the ability to open doors for you, which is the major difference between the two. During the session, emphasis was given on finding yourself a sponsor.
Afterward, I met up with two more junior compliance professionals attending the session who exclaimed, “I really need to find myself a sponsor.” I agreed it was beneficial to have a sponsor, but said that identifying the value in having a sponsor is the easy part.
It’s not like you can jump on Amazon and browse for the highest-rated sponsor in your price range. It can be incredibly difficult to actually find someone to invest in you, to look out for opportunities, advocate for you and sometimes even stick their neck out for you.
We live in a world where people are often preoccupied with their own advancement and growth, and it seems like our lives have never been busier. How do we persuade anyone to look up, take the time and sponsor us? I was concerned that the presenters made it seem all a little too easy (and perhaps even unilateral) to obtain a sponsor – which of course relies on another person wanting to have that key role!
5 Tips to Obtain a Sponsor – with a Caveat
1. Develop a good relationship with your boss.
For most people, their manager is in a key position of decision-making when it comes to internal career moves. The difference between a good worker and a great worker is someone who listens to and follows the instructions given and then asks how they can further add value for the relevant supervisor. Be reliable and make yourself a “go-to” person by putting your hand up for opportunities.
2. Say what you want out loud.
If you haven’t had a discussion with your boss beyond short-term plans, ask them if they would be willing to have a career-mapping session with you so that your supervisor is keenly aware of what your ambitions are. This is especially important if you’re interested in cross-departmental opportunities or a path that might not be immediately obvious given your current position and responsibilities.
3. Give your elevator speech an aspirational component.
Elevator speeches aren’t just for strangers you meet at networking events. How often do you find yourself in a meeting or on a call where everyone is asked to go around the room and introduce themselves? This can be an opportune time to share with internal stakeholders what you’re interested in. Describe what you currently do and then mention a future goal you’re building toward. This won’t be appropriate for every time you need to introduce yourself; use your best judgment.
4. Reach out.
Identify someone you think would make a great sponsor and reach out to them asking if they would be willing to give you advice on a quick question – something you’re genuinely interested in learning more about. Explain your career goal and that you would be grateful for their advice to help bring you one step closer to your aspirations. This puts you on their radar (assuming they’re not already your boss). That person can continue the discussion with you beyond the initial favor asked, if they wish.
5. Demonstrate your skills externally.
I often get contacted when the company I work for has a position open in our compliance department. Sometimes I pass the relevant resume or CV along to the hiring manager with a note that I was contacted by the applicant and am making sure it gets seen. Other times, even though I haven’t worked with the person, I’m able to add a note about how I’ve seen the applicant’s thought leadership in LinkedIn posts and am very impressed by their critical thinking.
While having a sponsor can be incredibly beneficial, as was stated in the session I was in, it is not something everyone has at every moment in their career. Obtaining a sponsor can take years, and that’s perfectly fine and normal. In time, you’ll naturally gravitate toward those with whom you have complimentary working styles and with whom you enjoy working, and it’s very likely that one of those people will become your sponsor without you even actively thinking on it.