Learning & Development, Talent

Mentors vs. Sponsors: How to Gain a Sponsor

Employee training can take a variety of forms. One of the most effective can be consistent, one-on-one interaction with a more senior or experienced colleague.


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People typically refer to these types of relationships as mentorship programs. Effective mentors can help their mentees gain crucial insights into their industry experience, as well as their experience in the specific organization. Mentors can also be great resources to turn to when specific issues come up in the mentee’s work or his or her relationships with coworkers or superiors.

Difference Between Mentors and Sponsors

Although mentors are many things to their mentees, they are not always sponsors. It’s important to keep that distinction in mind. It might at first seem like there is little difference between employees and sponsors other than the labels. There is certainly overlap, and mentors can act as sponsors and vice versa.

But one thing a mentor often does not necessarily do is actively advocate for the protégé, whereas a sponsor does. In an article for Forbes, Louise Pentland—the Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Company Secretary at PayPal—writes, “Mentors and sponsors serve different purposes, but their end goal is the same: to support you in achieving your goals. 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.”

Tips for Gaining a Sponsor

So how does one go about gaining a sponsor? Here are a few tips.

Perform. This might sound like a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation, but one of the best ways to gain a sponsor in order to help you improve your career is to be a good performer to begin with.

Sponsors want to take the most promising stars under their wings. This doesn’t mean you have to know it all or be perfectly polished, but it does mean you should demonstrate hard work, commitment, resourcefulness, and other key skills that show you are a potential rising star.

Know who the good sponsors are. Some leaders are better than others at advocating for junior employees. Just because someone is a top executive doesn’t mean he or she has the time or interest to be a good sponsor.

Have clear career goals. While a mentor might be there to guide employees in determining where they want to end up in an organization, a sponsor would be the better option for someone who already has a clear idea of his or her career path.

Let company leaders know your career goals. Don’t be shy in letting the top brass know about your ambitions, even if you feel like you might not have the proper skills or experience just yet. Get on their radar early and often. You never know when someone in an influential position will take an interest in you and reach out.

There’s definitely plenty of overlap between the functions of mentors and sponsors, but a mentor is not always willing or able to act as an effective sponsor. Knowing the difference and knowing how to identify and engage an effective sponsor can be a big career boost to any employee. Be sure to share these insights with employees who are looking to gain a sponsor in your workplace.