How Sponsors Differ From Mentors

 Marketing Director   October 13, 2022  Career Planning

Higher ed professional meeting with their sponsor

Early in Shelly Sherman’s career at an insurance company, a senior-level executive at the organization was a friend of her father.

He took it upon himself to introduce Sherman to key leaders in the company and he recommended her for projects so that colleagues could see what she was capable of doing. He asked her to speak at a conference with more than 500 people in attendance, despite her inexperience with public speaking, and coached her through how to do it.

“He made those things happen for me, knowing full well that I could deliver,” Sherman said.

Sherman called this person her sponsor, and it’s a reason she’s an advocate for sponsorship in the workforce now.

What is a Sponsor?

While many people are familiar with the role of a mentor, a sponsor takes that relationship to another level. A mentor will give you advice, but a sponsor will take extra steps to vouch for you and back you – making sure you get on the right projects or are exposed to the right people so that you can advance in your career.

“They not only give you advice, but also they are there to help make sure things happen for you,” said Sherman, who is now the senior director of talent management at a large, metropolitan pediatric health care organization, but spent several years in the higher education industry.

How to Get a Sponsor

Having a sponsor can be a critical factor in helping employees succeed, but hardly any employers offer formal ways for sponsorships to occur. Mentors can be assigned, but since sponsors often put their reputations on the line in advocating for the person they’re sponsoring, the connections must be genuine.

“You don’t really have that same kind of conversation where you walk up to someone and say, ‘I would love for you to sponsor me,’” Sherman said. “It doesn’t quite happen.”

Instead, the best way to gain a sponsor is to network within the organization and find ways to showcase your value. Sherman recommends volunteering for projects that allow potential sponsors to see your skills and abilities. Once an experienced member of the organization sees you’re a talented person who can benefit the company, they will be more likely to become your sponsor.

Of course, finding a sponsor isn’t the endgame. You still have to take advantage of the opportunities your sponsor may provide. In Sherman’s case, she still had to make the speech in front of a large crowd. She eventually become the president of the professional organization that held that conference.

“They might open the doors, but you have to walk through them,” Sherman said. “You have to do the work.”

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About the Author: Harold Gutmann is the director of brand and marketing strategy at Santa Clara University. He is a longtime writer and editor who is proud to work in higher education, and encourages all job seekers to consider it.