The critical contrast between MENTORS and SPONSORS is that the latter can be actual drivers of your career decisions and future mobility – and they put themselves on the line for you. Your Mentor(s) may also do that, but once they do, they’ve actually become your SPONSOR. Here are some of the benefits you can expect from SPONSOR:
- Championing you for an internal promotion or similar career-advancing opportunity (such as a high-visibility conference) that you would not have heard of otherwise, or for which you are one of many candidates;
- Sharing with you pending industry or company news that s/he has access to before it becomes public, news that could directly affect you;
- Putting your name forward as an ideal candidate for a prime position at a firm where you don’t have connections – and/or calling in favors with hiring managers and other powerful people who owe them favors;
- Making a compelling case for your hire to a fellow senior-level executive, going so far as to convince the executive to create a position just for you.
Furthermore, the guarantor/insurer benefit SPONSORS provide is not only to you and for you, but to and for the individual to whom they are championing your strengths. Their SPONSORSHIP of you has to demonstrate benefits to all the parties involved, including themselves. A SPONSOR is literally staking her or his reputation on you.
In that vein here are several important things to consider regarding what SPONSORS expect from you:
- An accurate view of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and that you can lead with your strengths to minimize threats. Know and articulate your competitive advantages, as the SPONSOR needs a compelling reason to advocate for you. Likewise, be prepared that a SPONSOR will (and should) vet you thoroughly before they agree to serve as your SPONSOR.
- A clear mission and vision of your career path and the SPONSOR’S role. This means you have researched your SPONSOR thoroughly – personal, career, charitable contributions, etc. – and you know what his/her priorities are. That way, you can easily answer not only the why-them question but, more importantly, the what’s-in-it-for-them questions they will have, and their expectations of you.
- A clearly articulated “ask.” Mentor relationships usually have ebbs and flows, allow for brainstorms and quasi-therapy interactions. SPONSOR engagements tend to be more transactional and specific to the situation, company, job, executive or other opportunity.
- Respect for their time and efforts. While this is where the needs of Mentors and SPONSORS are very similar, Mentors often forgive their mentees’ manners and may even forget past lapses. In comparison, if you disappoint, disrespect or embarrass a SPONSOR, there are usually many more negative consequences.
Our final, positive note on Mentors and SPONSORS: The power of please, thank you and an explicit recognition of the gravity that Mentors as well as SPONSORS confer on your behalf cannot be over-emphasized. In the uber-connected, 24/7 social media ecosystem, proper business etiquette is more important than ever – whether you’re gainfully employed, seeking a transition, or trying to build and sustain your client base.