If you’ve been following my Sponsorship series thus far, you already understand the importance of a professional sponsor. Now you’re probably wondering how you can secure sponsorship and reap the career benefits for yourself.
When searching for a sponsor (or sponsors), you shouldn’t waste time targeting the wrong people. Research from the Center for Talent Innovation shows that 40% of women fail to find a sponsor who can deliver.
This is largely because many high-potential women look for sponsors who are trusted role models instead of authoritative leaders. A mentor can be your friend, but a sponsor should be your strategic ally.
In large companies, you should look two levels above you. In smaller firms, it’s not impossible for the founder or part of their inner circle to be a viable option.
What’s more important than pinpointing your desired sponsors is making sure you’re the kind of employee a leader would want to sponsor. You don’t always pick your sponsor — sometimes your sponsor picks you. However, there are ways to swing the odds in your favor.
Sponsorship is Earned
You can’t be a subpar employee and expect to earn a high-quality sponsor. Your sponsor is essentially risking their own reputation by advocating for you, meaning you need to be a stellar employee before and after you secure a sponsor.
A great way for your value to be recognized is by going above and beyond. Join special committees or projects that highlight what you’re capable of. If you’ll be working directly with someone you’ve identified as a good potential sponsor, it’s an especially effective way to showcase your skills.
Don’t Be Your Organization’s Best-Kept Secret
Your leaders might not be aware of all the great work you’ve done, so don’t be afraid to tell them. It can be as simple as having a friendly conversation by the water cooler. Ask how their day is going, then casually highlight some of your recent achievements. Always have an elevator speech ready that highlights your value.
You should also clearly identify your career goals and share those goals with the leaders around you. If your managers and mentors know your goals and abilities, they could point you in the right direction of a relevant sponsor, or even sponsor you themselves.
You never know who is watching you and your work, so always be prepared for an opportunity with influential sponsors. Relationships are cultivated over time, so a sponsorship may develop organically without an explicit conversation. It’s just a natural extension of a strong professional relationship.
Stay tuned for my next article in the series. I’ll be giving a detailed explanation of how sponsors and mentors differ, and why you might need both for the greatest chance of success.