10 Ways to Get Your Job Skills in Shape

Learn the steps you should take today if you want to be competitive tomorrow

by Kate Ashford
tires and shoe in sand image
Photograph: Geof Kern

Q: You say women need sponsors?
Christine Silva, senior director of research at Catalyst: Yes. A sponsor is someone in your organization who is senior enough to advocate on your behalf, who sits at the table of decision makers and can speak up for you when it comes to promotions or chances at high-visibility development opportunities.

Q: Isn’t that what a mentor does?
CS: Mentors provide career advice and guidance. They may act as role models. But they aren’t necessarily senior enough to be a sponsor, and they may not be able to advocate for you.

Q: How did you arrive at this distinction between mentors and sponsors?
CS: We have been following the careers of MBA graduates from business schools around the world, and we have found that women lag behind men with respect to level and pay from their first job. But we have also found that women have more mentors than men do. It turns out it isn’t having a mentor that predicts advancement and compensation growth; it’s how senior that mentor is. When someone will put her reputation on the line and say, “I know she’s ready for the next step”—that seems to be the game changer.

Q: How do I get a sponsor?
CS: By networking with influential people in your company and making sure they know what you’ve accomplished and what your aspirations are. They have to know what you’d like them to sponsor you for.

Q: What mistakes do women make?
CS: They think that if they put their heads down and work hard, they’ll be noticed and get ahead. But you must also self-promote. Doing a good job doesn’t seem to be enough if people don’t know about it.

Increasingly, companies are looking for people who have worked abroad or managed an international team. The reason: Companies are doing more work overseas today than they were five years ago. “Even companies headquartered here have offshored some piece of their business,” says Elene Cafasso, president of Enerpace Inc., an executive coaching company. However, you may be able to stay put as long as you’re comfortable working virtually with team members in other time zones or are willing to travel frequently.

It’s not enough to have heard the name of new digital tools; you must try them. “If they’re talking about it in the mainstream media, you should know about it,” says Sabina Ptacin, cofounder of ’Preneur, a community and resource for small-business owners and entrepreneurs. “If you’re sitting in a meeting or an interview and someone mentions a new digital tool, you don’t want to present a blank face.”

Browse the technology news and figure out which tools are popping up over and over (no need to chase every technological flash in the pan; that’s just exhausting). Some good sources: Mashable.com, TechCrunch.com, the daily newsletter at Netted.net and the New York Times technology section. For tech and social media scoops, you should consider following the Twitter feeds from those sites, as well as @lifehacker, @tedrubin and @preneuring.

First published in the February 2013 issue

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