Career Woman

How to find the right sponsor to accelerate your career


We outline the difference between mentors and career sponsors, and how to find the right sponsor can further your career.

Mentorship is common practice in careers with about 70% of Fortune 500 companies offering mentoring programs. While mentors provide a strategic path for career development, there is evidence to suggest that poor mentoring relationships do more harm than good.

Instead of focusing on finding a mentor to accelerate your career, the solution for career advancement may well lie in getting good career sponsors instead. Surprisingly Cultivate has found 90% of women do not feel confident to seek a sponsor.

Career sponsors are different from mentors

According to HBR, a mentor is a great ‘sympathetic confidant’. They provide advice, share insights on their career path and point you in the right direction. When it comes to getting ahead in your career, you need a sponsor as Sylyia Anne Hewit describes in her book Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast-Track Your Career.

What they do for you

Sponsors are your champions, they put you forward for opportunities, advocate for you and back you. Sponsors get you credibility in a room when you are not there. With many senior roles not advertised, this is critical if you want to accelerate your career and be a magnet for opportunities.

Ways to find the right career  sponsors

Be clear on you and where you want to go

Your career sponsors need a map, a plan, a guide in what to sponsor you for and you are the one to tell them. Without a clear vision for your career, your goals or your mission, it’s going to be hard for your sponsor to help you get where you want to go.

Be clear on you, this will attract the right sponsor to you. Do you want to be in the executive leadership team, in a different industry or in a senior technical role? Let your sponsor know, that way when they see opportunities come up, they can put you forward.

If your sponsor has been where you want to go they can help you forge that pathway faster, knowing what it takes to get there and being credible in that area and make the right connections for you.

Get an introduction, even from an unlikely place

There are many ways to find and meet a potential sponsor. It could be at a networking event in the industry you want to be in, asking someone in your network if they know anyone who would be a good sponsor based on your goals or sharing about your vision and where you want to go.

One of the best career sponsors I have had in my career came from an unlikely place – a conversation I had with a graduate engineer. I shared my passion for women in engineering and how I had run an event for school students to be inspired about these careers. This graduate got excited and said the Executive Manager of his company shared this passion and offered to send an email and make an introduction. I thought there was no way this Executive was going to want to talk with me, but she did.

What is great about this relationship is it was because a graduate at the company who made this happen, not a senior executive.

Build a valuable sponsor relationship

In the first meeting the Executive Manager shared this one off event I’d run could be a national organisation. I had no idea this was possible but decided, as she had a lot more experience than me, maybe I could do it. I created a three year business plan, asked her for advice on it and then took action on the plan.

Over several years I’ve reported back on my progress and continued to meet with this Executive. Turning up and continuing to demonstrate progress, resilience and turning an idea into reality has continued the sponsorship relationship and opened doors to rooms I wouldn’t dream of being in, let alone as someone in my 20s.

The number one thing all my sponsors say stands out is when people take ideas and make them happen. They see dozens of ideas every day, but few people turn them into reality. Showing your follow through is paramount in creating lasting sponsorship relationships.

Where the right career sponsors can take you

From that first meeting nine years ago I am fortunate to continue to get sponsorship from this Executive. She has introduced me to the Angel investor who funded our Ed Tech company Machinam, connected me with aviation executives that resulted in a five year partnership to get more women into engineering, invited me to events I wouldn’t ever get to be at and provided countless introductions to other sponsors.

There is no way I could have done that on my own.

About Felicity Furey

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