Friday, March 4, 2011

Want the Job? Get a Sponsor

Corporate ladderImage by Myxi via FlickrFor the past two decades we’ve heard a lot about mentoring. Having a mentor – someone to guide you in your career and provide critical advice – is one of the keys to career success.

And we’ve heard a lot about networking. We have been taught that most jobs are found through networking. While estimates vary from 60% to 80%, it is a compelling data point that has made us think differently about working relationships.

Now there’s a new player everyone is talking about – the sponsor.

If you want to get ahead – and specifically if you want to get the job, your chances are dramatically increased if you have a sponsor.

What is a sponsor? And how is a sponsor different from a mentor?

A mentor is a trusted advisor who can help you work through issues, clarify what you want, act as a sounding board, and give you advice. A sponsor takes it one step further – they are connected within the organization you work (or are seeking work) and actively advocate for you to get the job (or promotion or opportunity). Usually an established leader in a high position, a sponsor throws your name in the hat and lobbies to move your name to the top of the list.

It makes sense. Being qualified for the job isn’t enough – there are lots of qualified candidates. What can distinguish you? Someone on the inside pulling for you.

Pulling strings? Yes. Does it work? Yes, it does.

According to an article titled Friends in High Places in the most recent issue of Working Mother magazine, lack of sponsorship is one of the key reasons why women are not advancing as quickly as their male peers. The article points out that while men embrace the notion of sponsorship, some women shy away from the idea of sponsorship – preferring to rely on mentors alone.

During my corporate career I was at times a sponsor, and at times I was sponsored for key jobs. I also lost out on some key opportunities when I didn’t have a sponsor. I know first-hand that when a senior executive calls asking you to give their candidate a shot at a job, that it is hard not to do so.

Do you have a sponsor? Has a sponsor helped you get a job?


Liz Fichera said...

I've never had a sponsor but I have had unofficial mentors. Networking continues to be key, regardless of the industry.

Joanne said...

It seems so much of advancing in whatever we do ... corporate work, the arts, entrepreneurs, is teamwork. I sometimes see it all as a form of support, helping us to move forward on the journey.

Dave E said...

Isn't this just a case of "It's not what you know, but who"?

Carol Kilgore said...

For me, it's just the way the world works. Someone has given it a name.

Kenneth H. Lee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kenneth H. Lee said...

I've never had a sponsor or mentor, though I have had unofficial mentors from time to time. Plus I've had people who said that I should consider finding a sponsor within the company.

To take Dave E's comment a bit further, as a friend of mine said to me.. It's not a matter of what you know or who you know, but rather it's a matter of who knows you.

This was advice my friend had received from his mentor before his mentor retired from the company. My friend did not move up much further within the company as people he knew in higher places retired from the company and he lost his advocates who could help keep his name known to others.

He hit a plateau since his ability and merits were no longer helping him advance. He knew people, but it did not help him because he was not known by the correct people.

Yes, this is the way the world works, but it does not mean that we have to like it. I sure don't. I find most of it distasteful.

Kenneth H. Lee said...

The ones who "succeed" tend to be those who can project upward well, even if they may not be qualified to move up. My colleagues and I are constantly amazed at some of the people we've seen promoted because they are able to project upward well.

Colette said...

Not what you know but who you know -- yes -- Dave and Kenneth, that's a good way to put it.

Carol -- the way the world works -- yes, I suppose it is. And it's easier to maneuver in that world if we know how it works.

Talei said...

No sponsor but I have had mentor and been a mentor myself. ;-)

Colette said...

Talei -- and mentors continue to be important!

Anonymous said...

It's not what you do, it's what others know you can do.

My experience is that we in the IT industry are not good at communicating our own and our team's accomplishments and capabilities.

Our challenge is that what we do is sophisticated and too many senior managers get to wield too much power over things that they have way too little knowledge about or an obligation to learn.

So if you are lucky enough to get a "sponsor" please don't waste the advantage it gives you. For the rest of us, have dreams and do the lottery.


Stephen D said...

Mr. Lee, AMEN brother!

hartsjl said...

Throughout my career, I have had (and continue to have) both sponsors and mentors.

In many cases, it is about who knows about your accomplishments and capabilities - and are those people positioned to share their knowledge of you at key decision points (like candidate selection).

I work very hard to differentiate my results and accomplishments, but I wouldn't be where I am today without my sponsors advocating for me when it counts the most.

One Womans Eye said...

Good topic. People forget the importance of a sponsor, the person who will go to bat for you behind closed doors. A mentor can guide and advise, but they can't help move your career forward.
Carla Harris talks alot about that in her book Expect to Win

Colette said...

One Womans Eye, thanks for pointing out the book. I'll have to check that out!