Career Woman

The 5-step guide to build a strong network to help you advance your career


“No one gets to where they are on their own,” is a famous sentiment that is bandied around from the likes of Oprah to Elon Musk.

The fact is that you need the support of others, a strong network, to help you achieve more. If you want to advance in your career, you need to learn to step up and exercise your skills differently, which means having the right support and guidance from others who have been there too. This helps you build your confidence and the ability to take on an element of risk, which comes with any kind of leap or change.

Getting the right people, or sponsors, in place is crucial to help you step into more senior roles. A sponsor is to advocate for you when and where you need to be more visible – they put your name forward for roles you did not know existed or might be coming vacant, for example.

However, it’s important to be very conscious about what sponsorship or network you need to support you in your career.

Here are five steps to follow to help you do that.

1. Choose the sponsorship you need

Be strategic about the network you need based on the role you are going for or the experience or knowledge you may need. Search for would-be sponsors based on this.

Look beyond your immediate circle of mentors and leaders. Would-be sponsors in large organisations are ideally two levels above you with line of sight to your role; in smaller firms, they’re either the CEO or someone on the executive team.

2. Connect with appropriate sponsors

Reach out and have a conversation with the person you would like support from. If you don’t ask then you don’t get. Be honest, authentic and transparent. There is nothing worse than when someone asks you for a coffee to ‘pick your brain’.

Equally, don’t just assume they will act as sponsor for you for a specific role you are applying for or be opening doors for you just because you impressed them in some way in the past. Be gracious and explain your intentions and why you think they could help.

3. Nurture your relationships

Like every good relationship, your network needs to be nurtured. How you build the relationship will likely look different for different sponsors, but it is important to be proactive about how you nurture and manage these relationships.

As a (bad) example of this, I had a leader call me who had worked for me some time ago. He wanted me to be a referee for a new role at executive level and said he would also like my sponsorship by way of supporting him into the role. I hadn’t heard from him for eight years! I could barely remember his achievements. Nevertheless, I offered to provide a reference. But I didn’t hear from him again for another nine months – at which point he told me he didn’t get the job and asked whether I could sponsor him again. The answer was no!

4. Review your career

Every 12 months, you must sit down and review your network. This is best performed at the same time as you are looking ahead to what you want to achieve for the year professionally and what development needs to take place to support that.

Sponsors move in and out of organisations regularly so you never want to find yourself having applied for a role or needing support with no-one senior to advocate for you.

5. Give back

Any kind of network is a two-way street. See your network as something you need to give back to. How can you provide help for someone else? What skills, knowledge or expertise can you offer as a thanks?

Sponsors don’t just magically appear, and a solid network must be earned and reviewed on an ongoing basis. But when you have the right sponsor, the right people, the right network, the result can change your career.

About Michelle Sales

Michelle Sales is a highly sought-after speaker, trainer, facilitator and coach who helps senior leaders and their teams learn to show up as the best version of themselves, to build their confidence and influence with others, and to maximise their leadership and performance. She is the author of the book ‘The Power of Real Confidence’. Find out more at

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