In a previous post, we discussed the difference between mentors and sponsors in the workplace.
According to Louise Pentland, senior vice president, general counsel, and company secretary at PayPal, “You won’t always know who your sponsors are, but they are people who will advocate for you in the workplace when you need to be more visible.”
“Playing a slightly different role, a mentor is a source of guidance and advice, though not necessarily a coach or an advocate,” she adds.
Pentland says that there are multiple ways to find a mentor: deliberate matching programs within a company, external mentoring programs, and even people you run into along the way in your work and personal life. But how does one find a sponsor?
“Well, the catch is,” says one expert, “that’s not how it typically works—you don’t get to choose the sponsor; the sponsor almost always chooses you.” However, there are certain behaviors that can help you attract a sponsor even if you can’t choose one yourself.
Perform. High performance is a base level quality you need to attract a sponsor. People aren’t going to stick their neck out and advocate for you if you aren’t a quality player.
Know who the good sponsors are. Just because someone is influential and has a lot of clout doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is good at advocating for others. Keep your eyes open for those who are.
Raise your hand for exposure opportunities. This is a great way to both do some internal networking and to show off your skill sets in high-profile projects. Don’t sit back and wait to be picked. Step forward and volunteer!
Make your value visible. Without being too boastful, find a way to let people know about your great accomplishments.
Have clear career goals. Unlike a mentor, a sponsor’s primary role isn’t necessarily to help you decide what you want to develop into. You need to already have a clear idea of where you see yourself down the road to gain maximum value from a sponsor.
Share your career goals with your leaders. It’s important to make sure your sponsor knows your career goals. It’s obviously hard for them to advocate for you if they don’t know what you want.
Mentors and sponsors serve different roles with the same end in mind: advancing the careers of the individual(s) they are mentoring or sponsoring. Many companies actively pair mentors and protégés, but finding a sponsor is often a more relationship-based process.