The 3 keys to finding a career sponsor

In my last blog I wrote about career sponsorship as a way to retain talented women in the technology field and there are many articles, books, and helpful tips available on its importance. But let’s face it—when it comes to actually finding the right person to take an active interest in your career, it can be harder than finding a perfect life- mate. At least in the search for a life partner, there are friends, family, and dozens of quality matchmaking services one can access for support.

The following are some tips for sponsor seekers. These are drawn from my own experiences including current work with the Women in Communications and Technology Protégé Project.

  1. Reflect on your personal motivation

Before kick-starting the search process, take the time to develop an inventory of your characteristics, skills, achievements, and experiences. To help you through this exploration process, ask yourself the following questions to clarify your motivation for wanting to find a sponsor:

  • What do I really want next in my career?
  • What’s stopping me from attaining that now?
  • What am I prepared to do and what am I not willing to do?

As part of the reflection process, be sure to take inventory of not only highlights but gaps as well as these will be equally valuable in providing a sense of what you need to look for in a sponsor. Through it all, keep in mind that sponsorship is a two-way street: you have to be able to articulate how your talents would be of value in helping a sponsor to succeed.

  1. Consider your reputation

There’s no dearth of information available about the importance of defining your personal brand. Personally, I struggle with the concept of “my brand”. Can I be boiled down to a simple tagline that says it all? Am I more General Electric or more Nike?

In the search for reconciling the whole self-branding concept, the best tip I received was to replace the word “brand” with “reputation”. This works well because it can seem less daunting to articulate what people say about you rather than what you think you should say about yourself.

Once you’ve defined your reputation, consider whether it is aligned to your next desired career step. For example, if your reputation is that you always “get things done” but the next role you seek requires more vision and strategy, there is a gap to close. It’s also a clue as to what to look for in a sponsor and how you can help a sponsor succeed.

  1. Aim for a specific target

Armed with an understanding of your motivations and reputation, you can move with confidence to targeting potential sponsors. Here are a few ideas to get you started on finding a sponsor:

  • Convert a mentor. Think about people who you consider to be mentors today. Is there someone with whom you’ve had a long-term successful relationship and who can really help you address the gaps you’ve identified? Would he or she consider taking on a more active role in your career advancement? If so, ask if they would step-up to sponsorship.

If the ask is accepted, be prepared to do the work to define how the relationship would differ from mentoring, what you are prepared to do to make the shift successful, and what you would like from your mentor-turned-sponsor. If the ask isn’t accepted, then it’s an excellent opportunity to find out more. Again, don’t be afraid to ask—the feedback can only help you as you continue your search for the perfect sponsor.

  • Scan your network. Examine your existing network of contacts both inside and outside your organization. Is there someone you already know who is aligned with your goals and reputation who you think could fill in some of the gaps for you? If none of the contacts in your network come to mind, what about the contacts in their networks? Ask an industry colleague who they consider to be a visionary or strategist and whether an introduction is possible.

Regardless of whether you find a potential sponsor through direct or indirect networking, consider developing a relationship with someone who takes you outside of your comfort zone. That will keep the challenges fresh and also produce the most interesting results in terms of development.

  • Cross-company programs. The idea of formalized, cross-company programs for career sponsorship is a new one emerging from the need to improve the number of senior women leaders in the Communications Media and Technology industry. Referenced earlier, the Women in Communication and Technology’s Protégé Project is the first of its kind in Canada. The project is off to a strong start with the initial pilot having matched 16 executive sponsors and protégés from different companies and industry sectors. With the next intake session targeted for November 2015, it is a unique opportunity for both executive sponsors and potential protégés to gain valuable insights and have a significant impact on the digital economy.

In general, statistics and studies say women fail to make the best use of career sponsorship. I believe they underestimate its value in breaking through to the next level. It takes time and thought to identify and build a sponsor relationship. I hope the tips I provided give you a start in the right direction.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Shann McGrail
Shann McGrail
Shann’s 20+ years in the technology industry have inspired her love for developing the potential of people and teams and amplifying results through the power of technology. Her current portfolio of work includes helping technology companies educate customers and tell their stories, furthering the advancement of women in communications, media and technology and bringing the power of improv to business challenges.

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