You’re Never Too Young or Too Old to Get a Sponsor – Part 1

people meeting 5 20 13From clients as well as students, I field a lot of questions about the importance of having a career SPONSOR, specifically:

1) The role of SPONSORS vs. Mentors
2) How to find a SPONSOR
3) What to expect from a SPONSOR
4) What SPONSORS expect from you.

Those are all questions that serve the mentee or sponsored individual much more so than the Mentor or SPONSOR. Each role has very often different parameters, benefits and expectations.

mentorThis blog deals with the role of SPONSORS vs. Mentors; and how to find a SPONSOR. Part 2 will address what to expect from SPONSORS and what SPONSORS expect from you.

Mentors are usually informal advisors and counselors, perhaps your supervisors, teachers, colleagues or even – and most especially for mature professionals – former direct reports you trust. “Mentor” comes from the Greek guide who helped Odysseus on his legendary journey; therefore there’s both an implication and an inference of altruism. Don’t ignore or neglect to maintain good relationships with younger professionals you helped early in your career, as they may be in good positions to help you later…as Mentors or SPONSORS.

Typical roles of Mentors:

  • …provide guidance, opinion and perhaps difficult to obtain information and introductions that could be useful for your job or career.
  • …are good sounding boards that can help steer you as you refine your goals, consider your options and develop an action plan.
  • …can be short-term or long-term advisors, and they usually get satisfaction from the fact that their wisdom, experience and expertise are valued.

A SPONSOR, on the other hand, is someone in usually a more elevated position of power or influence, with crucial connections. The SPONSOR is a guarantor, patron and ambassador of your strengths, motivations, knowledge and aptitudes – an advocate for you to someone with whom they have a strong reciprocal relationship, often one of “quid pro quo.” SPONSORS open doors to places that other people don’t even know exist, and they have levers others may only suspect, wish for, or deny exist. In many cases, the SPONSOR acts as a protector and defender – hence, the most literal defining characteristic of an advocate.

Mentors and SPONSORS can be the same people, and I have served in both capacities. Mentors are slightly easier to cultivate and engage. The SPONSOR relationship is a different construct, and involves considerable more work and responsibility, depending on the environment and your goals.

Here are a few tips on how to find a SPONSOR, depending on your goals:

  1. Internal advancement: Volunteer to contribute to important task forces and committees whose leaders are executives of considerable power, influence and connections. Many SPONSORS pick the people they think will be stars in the organization, and champion them accordingly.
  2. External visibility, advancement, job hunting: Join at least three professional organizations where you can assume active committee roles that will increase your visibility and enhance your capacity to engage influential executives with the power and inclination to SPONSOR you – for your next job, promotion, etc. This includes becoming active as a volunteer or board member for a nonprofit that you respect and whose leadership you admire.
  3. Prospect Cultivation, Solicitation and Client Engagement. Serving on professional organizations’ committees is crucial for executives who work in consulting as SPONSORS can recommend them to clients. SPONSORS alert consultants to account movement so they can gain entrée to new business before other firms do. Consultants have to be extremely good at what they do, as referrals and other testimonials are prime SPONSOR currency.

Plant Seeds of Renewal in Your Brain this Spring!

plant-164500_640This year, it seems like there is no spring season in sight… after a hard, very long winter. If you live in the northeast, you may be waiting to plant your real garden, due to the hideous weather we’re all having (hail the size of golf balls here in Vermont the other afternoon).

But what a perfect opportunity to plant seeds of renewal in our brains. Here are 7 SEEDS of ideas to get you growing and sowing. After all, Mother Nature herself needed seven days to get the earth in BLOOM, and even SHE rested!

  1. To PLANT your SEEDS of accomplishment for 2015, first decide what you want to reap. Do you want to learn valuable new skills, gear up for a brand new, exciting and fulfilling career? Develop new connections, friendships and relationships? Maybe you have an even loftier goal, such as starting a multi-million dollar business. Decide what you want your full-blown PLANTS to look like!
  2. Once you determine how you want your flourishing GARDEN to look, you need a plan to make it happen. If you want to learn a new skill, why not sign up now for a finance class, a computer class, a ballroom dance class or music lessons? Why not learn a new language?
  3. If your goal is finding a new career, June is the perfect time to set up informational interviews or networking sessions where you talk with people about their jobs and figure out whether their career might be a perfect career for you. Even with all the slush and muck in the streets, people you want to know are ready to come out of hibernation for a quick lunch or espresso. [For more helpful tips on job-hunting in these challenging economic times, click here.]
  4. If you have to literally crack open your copy of What Color is Your Parachute, then don’t wait for evidence of moth larvae infestation between the pages before you buy yourself the new edition. No one writes about career reinvention, midlife crises or having a “Plan B” the way that Richard Nelson Bolles does.
  5. If you haven’t taken a career assessment test since you wore miniskirts the first decade they were in style (which would also be the decade that Cher could scowl and smirk with the lips, eyes and forehead that Mother Nature gave her), then sign up to take a Myers-Briggs personality test (www.mbticomplete.com). Even though Myers-Briggs experts say that your personality traits stay the same as you move through your life, taking the test again will reaffirm for you who you are today, and what type of job would be a good fit for your personality now. At the very least, it’s a way to PLANT new SEEDS in your own head, and then in others’ heads.
  6. Speaking of heads, two (or more) heads are sometimes better than one. If you want to develop new networks of friends or relationships, make sure you have a profile on a business social network like LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com), or update your professional profile, and make plans with people whom you haven’t seen in years. Or, how about hosting a dinner party for six friends that you think would have fun together brainstorming the next move in their lives – even if you have to order in? Or, go to a panel sponsored by your alma mater or the local YMCA, so you can be exposed to new ideas while meeting new people.
  7. Finally, this might not sound like an activity for a “day of rest” but if your daydreaming time tends to veer toward visions of having your own business, maybe this is the perfect time to PLANT the SEEDS for that. Decide what type of business you want to start that fits in with the rest of your goals in life. In entrepreneurial finance, the term “lifestyle business” is used to define a business that will also allow you to have a normal life. And, we’re all for that! Start researching the industry you’re thinking about entering, and the companies that might be your competition. Then think about what you would need to do to put together a kick-butt business plan.

    SEED that need and get yourself in full BLOOM!

 

It’s Never Too Early and Never Too Late – Two young enterprising careerists demonstrate.

Most of us by now have learned that using the term “seasoned executive” is a sure turnoff to many of today’s younger hiring managers, some of whom look as if they could be our kids but in fact are now our supervisors. They’re learning early how to Drive, Advance, Rule and Express their Experience and Expertise.

Make no mistake that they are running the new world, and we must run along with them, run faster than them, or run and hide from them. For me and other women over 40 who DARE, the last choice isn’t even an option. I say we challenge ourselves to run along with them and champion them to win – the pie is big enough for all of us.

Chardia Christophe

Chardia Christophe

Two phenomenal young 20-something women I met several months ago illustrate this point. At the behest of a friend, I attended an evening networking event sponsored by New York Women in Communications, being held at an Upper West Side restaurant in a very fashionable neighborhood in New York City.

Among the young women we observed scooping up guacamole, slurping mixed cocktails, and balancing their tiny frames on vertiginously high heels that evening were Micaela and Chardia Christophe. Two utterly charming twin sisters, both have been working and learning about business since their early teens. Micaela manages showroom merchandising projects at Donghia, a high-end home furnishings company featuring textiles, lighting and accessories. Chardia works for American Express, managing the marketing for a wine club along  with other member affinity clubs under such luxury brands as Food & Wine, Sky Guide, and Departures.  Chardia has a Master’s in Communication Studies; Micaela is pursuing her MBA in Marketing.

micaela christophe

Micaela Christophe

Even a few of those remarkable accomplishments would place them high on my list of “young professionals I would love to mentor/sponsor/adopt.” On top of that, they are extremely endearing, fascinating and fascinated about everything, and hilariously funny because of their complete and utter curiosity and genuine appreciation for every opportunity they have to advance their careers constructively and productively, make their parents proud and have as much fun as possible doing it.

Following is just some of the wise advice Micaela and Chardia offered when they spoke to my Marketing Planning class at NYU. They didn’t merely shoot from the hip; they did a full-blown Power-Point presentation. Their advice is as suitable for 60-somethings as it is for 20-somethings. I’ve paraphrased only slightly for space and context, adding my own two cents- type comments here and there.

1. Get engaged in the industry you wish to be in – especially if you’re job-hunting. The ladies’ specific advice:

  • Follow powerful people you admire or would like to network with on Twitter and LinkedIn. Comment politely on their background or posts.
  • Volunteer at events whenever you can.
  • Go to mixers and network strategically.

2. Professionalize your phone presence and voice messages. The ladies’ advice:

  • Be sure your outgoing message as well as the ones you leave for others are friendly and professional.
  • If you are trying to persuade busy executives, script out what you want to say, because very few executives pick up their own phones, and assistants will happily put you into voice mails.
    My own two cents: Record and listen to your cadence and delivery (this goes for oral presentations in general). Be especially cognizant of what I see in women of all ages, the telltale “uptick” at the end of declarative sentences as if they were questions.

3. Check your email, at least three times a day; being responsive is a highly valued trait.
My two cents: if you truly cannot respond in a day, at least acknowledge the email within 24 hours and/or default to an “out of office” notice so your lack of reply doesn’t seem discourteous. If you’re like me and running through airports mowing down baby strollers and old people, you’re probably not interested in email as much as you are in food and bathroom facilities.

4. Be careful with your wardrobe. Remember to “dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.”
My two cents: nothing saddens me more than to see a woman over 40 dressed slovenly or in sweat pants in public unless said woman is: a) escaping from an Outward Bound retreat; b) coming or going to the gym; c) appearing in public that way before dawn, in which case “slovenly” might be most handy caffeine-procurement garb, in which case, perfectly suitable!

5. Utilize your friends and contacts courteously when job hunting. The ladies’ advice: Reach out to all your contacts and let people know you’re looking. People like to help, and they can’t if you haven’t asked them! Looking for a job IS YOUR JOB.
My two cents: regarding your friends and contacts, do ASK, don’t demand; accommodate their schedules, don’t impose; be geo-friendly – don’t specify neighborhoods you’d prefer to meet when time is tight for the people you’re asking!

6. Practice, Practice, Practice. The ladies’ advice:

  • Go through the possible interview questions until you’re blue in the face.
  • Know the company well, so well that you feel confident and comfortable.
  • Remind yourself of the value of direct eye contact with the interviewer. As you practice, look in a mirror to be sure your body language is relaxed and strong, that you are not fidgeting.
  • Try out your wardrobe choice in advance.
    My two cents: when you’ve done so much research on the firm and reviewed your resume to the point where you could recite it from memory, group all of your benefits to the employer into these three “bundles:” strengths, motivation and fit. Trust me, ALL interview questions fall into those areas, and ALL of them must reflect what the employer most wants that you are willing to deliver to get the job.

7. Go to ALL interviews. Consider them networking opportunities, even if you do not get the job. You never know who knows who.
My two cents: AMEN to that, for sure! It also helps to have a strategic job-hunting plan, and identify the kinds of people you most need to cultivate.

8. Use good online Resources: Media Bistro, Indeed, LinkedIn – all are good for a variety of jobs. There are new online career sites emerging every day.
My two cents: Don’t forget that most hiring managers either hire from within or hire someone they know and trust. More than that, you need to research and secure a SPONSOR. (See my previous blogs for more on working with sponsors: http://thedareforce.com/2013/05/20/executives-over-40-a-few-choice-words-from-your-sponsor-part-1/; http://thedareforce.com/2013/05/30/part-2-great-expectations-from-sponsors-from-you/

Micaela and Chardia Christophe are just two of the young professionals currently hoping to run the new world. Here’s hoping that their managers over 40 are not only running along with them, but championing them to win. Leaders over 40 need to embrace every opportunity to mentor, champion and sponsor the next generation. If you doubt the pie is big enough for all of us, then the next generation of digital natives and relentlessly inventive entrepreneurs will be eating your lunch.