Career Tip: The Art of "Micro-Sponsorship"

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Follow these quick tips to get a sponsor, then learn how to engage your sponsor and continue your professional relationship long-term.

By Karen Catlin (Advocate for Technical Women)

Sponsors are people who are influential in your organization or your industry. Sponsors know you well enough to advocate for you and recommend you for new opportunities. With their organizational clout, they can open doors you never knew existed. They could be the key to your career advancement.

But how exactly do you get a sponsor? You never approach someone and ask them to be your sponsor. Instead, you need to do things to earn their respect and then look for ways to engage with them. I like to call this micro-sponsorship. In other words, ask them to sponsor specific things you need help with.

I have some practical ideas for you to consider as you think about engaging with sponsors. I collected these from workshops and discussions I've led about sponsorship; they've helped others and I bet they'll help you.

What’s in it for the sponsor?

To start, let's look at why a sponsor might be interested in helping you.

  • They want to demonstrate a commitment to developing employees.

  • They want to improve their reputation by associating themselves with highly talented individuals.

  • They want to show they are in touch with people throughout the company.

  • They might gain valuable insight from the individuals they sponsor, which they can use to be a more effective leader.

How can you earn the respect of a sponsor?

You have to earn the respect of a sponsor. I believe the building blocks for earning respect are:

  • Be a consistent high performer. You need to do your job really well.

  • Hone your communication skills. Your communication style forms a lasting impression. To make it excellent, take a class, ask trusted peers for feedback or join a local Toastmasters club.

  • Develop a strong personal brand. Be famous for something, and make sure it is relevant to your business. Not sure how to create your brand? Here's an article from Women's Leadership Coaching with ideas to get you started.

  • Be visible. Sponsors need to know who you are. Strive to be a known entity, to be highly visible. Look for stretch assignments that will put you in contact with leaders outside of your direct management chain.

How can you engage a sponsor?

Previous managers and mentors often make great sponsors because they know you well. Or, a sponsor could be another leader whom you respect. To engage them, ask them to sponsor specific things. For example, ask them to:

  • Make an introduction. “Can you introduce me to so-and-so? I would like to get her feedback on a project that I'm working on.”

  • Advocate for you. “I am interested in applying for a job on so-and-so’s team. Can I count on you for a recommendation?”

  • Connect you to a career opportunity. “I would like to become a <insert career goal here>. Can you let me know if you hear of openings that would be a good fit for me?”

By asking someone to open a specific door for you, you can make progress on a short-term goal while planting a seed with them that may bear fruit in the future. They may just think of you when a hot new opportunity comes across their desk.

How do you thank a sponsor?

Don't forget to thank your sponsor. Here are some ideas:

  • Write a thank you. Send a simple email or hand-written note to thank them for a specific action they took to help you.

  • Keep them informed. Periodically tell them about your progress with whatever they sponsored you for.

  • Look for ways to return the favor. Volunteer to help with activities they are spearheading. Ask them if there is something you can do to help them.

  • Make 'em proud. Do outstanding work so they continue to be proud of you. Refresh your personal brand to reflect new skills you learn. Help them be seen as someone who can spot rising talent.

  • Pay it forward. Be a sponsor for other people.

Sponsorship can be a win-win relationship, helping both the sponsor and you. Sponsors can show they are committed to employee development, can improve their reputation by advocating for a talented person such as yourself, and may learn valuable insights from you. With a sponsor’s help, you will have access to new opportunities and ways to grow your career. Don’t miss out. Engage a sponsor today through the art of "micro-sponsorship."

What other “micro-sponsorship” tips do you have?

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.


About the guest blogger: Karen Catlin develops powerful women leaders in the tech industry with leadership coaching and advising companies on how to attract and retain female talent. She has an extensive background in Silicon Valley. Formerly, Karen was a vice president at Adobe Systems, and most recently, the CEO of Athentica, an early-stage startup. Follow her on Twitter @kecatlin and see more of her work at karencatlin.com.