A lot of people think that ‘a career sponsor’ is just a fancy new name for good old fashioned mentoring, but in reality the two things are totally different.

Mentors and sponsors can both help you advance your career, but it’s important to work out which one you need.


Mentor V Sponsor – what’s the difference?

Both mentors and sponsors are senior people in your organisation or industry. But while mentors provide you with advice and resources, sponsors act like cheerleaders who speak up for you and your abilities.

Having a sponsor in the workplace is like having an advocate or spokesperson who is willing to use their power and influence to help advance your career.


What can a sponsor do for your career?

A good sponsor can open doors for you in many different ways. They can put your name forward for exciting opportunities, they can champion proposals that you put forward and they can put your strengths in the spotlight.

A sponsor can also help protect you in times of organisational change or uncertainty.

In addition to this, research into sponsorship shows that people with a sponsor are 22 per cent more likely to make bold moves such as asking for a raise or asking for more responsibility.


How to find a sponsor

A huge difference between mentors and sponsors is that it is much easier to find a mentor. The key thing is that senior managers don’t have much to lose by agreeing to be your mentor. Sponsors on the other hand have to stick their neck out for you linking their own name and reputation to your performance. Because of this it is much harder to find a sponsor.

So what can you do to get a sponsor on board? The critical thing is to put yourself out there. Find opportunities to make yourself more visible – volunteer to head up a presentation or chair a meeting.

Of course, if you want to attract a sponsor you will need to have a history of high performance.

You might find that you have an unofficial sponsor already. Is there a senior person in your organisation who has spoken up for you or put you forward for a new role? If so, you are already one step closer to having a sponsor.

Many organisations and industries have official mentoring programs that you can apply for, linking employees with senior staff who are willing to provide their time. Some organisations are starting to offer official sponsorship programs so it is worth talking to your manager to see if there is a new program on the horizon.


How to get the most from your sponsor

To get the most out of your sponsor it is really important that you are clear about your career goals so you can communicate them to your sponsor. There is no point being put forward for an opportunity if it doesn’t align with your objectives.