Everyone knows the importance of having a mentor. A mentor is there to give you advice, answer the questions you’re embarrassed to ask anyone else, and cheer you on through the highs and lows of life.
What’s not widely known is that having a sponsor is equally important. A sponsor is someone who advocates for you. They position you for top jobs, highly-coveted opportunities, and competitive projects.
As a colleague recently put it: a mentor is someone you go to lunch with, and a sponsor is someone who talks about you at lunch.
To ensure you have a sponsor (ideally, sponsors in the plural form), you must:
Develop a strong network
It’s all about who you know. The more people you establish relationships with, the higher the likelihood you find people you naturally connect with. The more people you establish a relationship with, the more likely you will have people who proactively advocate for you in their networks.
When someone informally “sponsors you” by throwing your name in the hat for an opportunity, they’re putting their reputation on the line for you. This is a big deal. People only advocate for people they have total confidence in. Your performance is a reflection of them.
Be clear about what your goals are
Even if you win someone over and they want to support you, they can only do so if they know how to do so. Be clear about the opportunities you’re looking for and the goals you have. Communicate this to the people in your network.
Stay top of mind
Be intentional and methodical about maintaining regular communication with essential people in your network. If you go too long without speaking with someone, say six months or a year, you’re likely not top of mind for them. Stay in touch through a quick email exchange, handwritten note, coffee, or meeting.
That is how you find your sponsors. You’ll know you’ve done it when you start getting referred to opportunities or introduced to new people. Those are the ultimate signs that someone is actively sponsoring you.