How To Seek Out Mentors

Reach across generational, gender, and racial boundaries to develop new and meaningful professional relationships. 

by Caroline Dowd-Higgins • Member { View Profile }

It’s no secret that a mentor can be a terrific resource as you navigate your personal career path. Some organizations assign mentors and other relationships develop naturally when like-minded people hit it off. Seeking a mentor starts simply with asking for advice from a trusted professional who has been there and done that in your industry. Start by asking for information and advice and see how the relationship develops. You will know when you have made an authentic connection with someone and taken the relationship beyond colleague to personal guru.

Sponsorship is becoming more mainstream and savvy women and men should be on the lookout for those who can assist them in moving upward on their career journey. While a mentor can answer your questions and advise on how to navigate the organizational landscape, a sponsor will actually get you there.

A sponsor knows your accomplishments well and will sell you to others that do not know you in your organization and beyond. Your sponsor puts her (or his) reputation on the line for you and gives you a professional endorsement that gives you clout and credibility. You may actually spend more contact time with your mentor discussing your innermost doubts and issues but your sponsor is willing to put her name out there for you in order to help you advance.

It’s important to keep your sponsor well informed about your accomplishments so she can go to bat for you and recommend you for key projects that will help you distinguish yourself in the organization. Is it possible to have a sponsor and a mentor? Yes, and you should look for both.

Finding a sponsor is a more delicate task. You should seek out someone in your organization that is well respected and influential. Once you identify a potential sponsor, introduce yourself, earn her trust and respect, and then begin to share your value-add with strategic information about your accomplishments and goals within the organization.

You must be courageous in developing new relationships while searching for a sponsor. Reach across generational, gender, and racial boundaries to develop new and meaningful professional relationships. Your sponsor will most likely be a stretch relationship while your mentor may be a personal confidant with whom you already share a lot in common.

Securing a sponsor also focuses on the need to develop professional relationships internally and externally in your career field. You should be innovative in managing up and getting to know people beyond your rank and pay grade in your organization as this is the most likely talent pool for a sponsor. Someone who is a lateral counterpart will not have the clout you need to help you move upwards and serve as a sponsor.

Another strategy is to become more visible by volunteering to work on key projects that prospective sponsors will also be involved in. Distinguish yourself, be a consummate professional, and make your potential sponsor also look good, and you will earn the opportunity to ask a sponsor to consider you as a protégé.

Remember: Sponsorship must be earned so it’s imperative to build a relationship with respect so you can demonstrate your worth and value to the organization. A sponsor won’t put their reputation on the line by endorsing you unless they are confident in your abilities to go above and beyond.

You have the power to mobilize your professional team. Seek out multiple mentors, assemble your Board of Directors, and earn the opportunity to gain a sponsor. These individuals are all instrumental in helping you move forward with your career goals because it really does take a village. In the spirit of paying it forward, give some thought about who you can advise as a mentor, board member, or sponsor as well.

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