How to Find Sponsors at Work (Open Thread)

how to find sponsors at workI recently took part in an alumni discussion on how to ask for raises and other negotiation tips. I was intrigued when a lot of women in the group raised their hands for advice, telling stories of how they failed to get the raise, job, or promotion they deserved, despite following all the best negotiation and advocating-for-themselves advice.  And over and over again, I found myself thinking, “she needed a sponsor.”  So today, lets talk about how to find sponsors at work. For those of you who do have sponsors, please share your stories — how did you find them and cultivate those relationships? For those of you who don’t — have you looked for a sponsor? Have you ever considered your direct boss your sponsor, or does it have to be someone slightly separate?

To review some vocabulary: a mentor is kind of like a life coach lite — they may or may not work at your company or even in your line of work, but they’re helpful for you to ask big questions (job, career, lifestyle, city, family), for you to learn from their paths, and generally helpful when it’s Decision Time. A sponsor is someone at your office who is involved (either directly or indirectly) in helping you get the work you want — or, ideally, will be writing your review or be in the room at the meeting and can be your advocate for the new job or promotion. (Or, going with our cheesy “seat at the table” imagery: a mentor helps you decide which seat to take at the table — but the sponsor helps you get in the room.)

(For my $.02, I’m not sure I ever had a legitimate sponsor in my legal career. There were certainly people in my corner, and people who said nice things about me — and I think I may have been “on the short list” at various points as a person who was good at X or had special knowledge in Y. But I’m not sure anyone in my legal career would have said, “oh, you haven’t met Kat? She’s fabulous, and you NEED her for this project.”

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Mentoring Advice: How to Be a Great Mentee (and How to be a Great Mentor)

Mentoring Advice for WomenI was thinking recently about the different mentors I’ve had over the years — as well as the different mentees — and I started wondering: what are best practices on both sides of the relationship? How can you get the most out of your mentor-mentee relationship?  What’s the best advice for how to be a great mentee — and on the flip side, what’s the best advice for how to be a great mentor? In general what’s the best mentoring advice out there? (Do you have different mentoring advice for women than you do for men?) I’d love to hear your thoughts on the mentor-mentee relationship in today’s open thread.

For my $.02, these are my tips on how to be a great mentee:

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Networking In Your Niche — But Outside Your Company

Networking in Your Niche - But Outside Your Company | CorporetteWhat’s the best way to network in your niche and with experts in your field — but outside your company?  How can you find these experienced professionals, and how should you reach out? Can you find a mentor outside your own company? Reader M wonders:

I just landed a job in a field I’m excited to be in, and am looking to make the most out of it. However, I am the only one in my office who is responsible for this specific subject matter. While my managers help me out whenever they can, the only other person who has similar exposure to this type of work is based at our overseas office. There are a number of professionals based in my city who are experts on this particular subject matter, and I would love to meet them and perhaps find a mentor in this field. However, since my office is based a bit outside of the city and I work long hours, I’m not exactly in the position to meet up with someone for a weekday lunch or coffee. How can I start to form relationships with experienced professionals in my field when my only free time is on nights and weekends? There are only a very limited number of conferences and events that I know of, so I thought it might be worthwhile to reach out to someone directly. Thoughts?

What a great idea, Reader M — networking with other people in your niche is going to allow you to accelerate your learning, have someone else to bounce ideas off of, and even give you some visibility in the field and hopefully the means to move to other companies if and when the time is right. Networking when you’re junior takes some finesse, and maybe I’m overcomplicating your particular situation — you can always just call the local experts you know of and ask to take them to breakfast, of course! — but my concern is that a cold call would seem either like you’re job searching, or possibly (depending on the field) like you’re trying to get intel on how Company X does its work so you can copy it for your own company. However it’s interpreted, it might raise eyebrows with the expert you’re calling as well as with your company.  (One option that might bypass this: ask your overseas colleague if they have any local-to-you contacts in your field who you should know, or what local groups they recommend joining and who is in charge of them — and then ask if you may reach out using your colleague’s name.)  So, instead, my approach would be to focus on getting involved in associations and clubs within your field — this will put you in the right position to meet the experts at an association event.  If there are no local events, your involvement in the association still gives you a good reason to reach out to the experts — interview them for the association’s newsletter, or set up a local event yourself.  (It also gives you a good reason to leave work early, within reason — having an industry meeting once a month or once a quarter is generally accepted and encouraged by employers. I’ve also mentioned my love of breakfast meetings for networking — it’s often more acceptable to come an hour late to work rather than leave two hours early, but obviously, you have to know your own office here.) SO: Some ideas on how to get involved:

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Feeling Jealous of a Younger Colleague

Feeling Jealous of a Younger ColleagueWhat should you do if you’re feeling envious of a colleague who’s younger than you, seemingly unappreciative of the opportunity you’re giving her, and also — in your opinion — inappropriately flirty at networking events? Reader J wonders:

I’m a 40 yr old business development manager at an engineering firm. I’ve formed a group of female colleagues that helps with networking and business that’s getting notice in my city (like a Stiletto Mafia). A few months ago one of the key ladies in my group invited my junior engineer in my firm to join.

This engineer is funny and smart but also a gorgeous 24 yr old. Now I am torn between wanting to be a mentor and jealousy. I am jealous that she has access to this group of high powered ladies that are my friends and doesn’t seem to grateful that I’m including her. This engineer also occasionally helps with networking. It’s frustrating to attend a business event while these men are flirting with her. She isn’t overt, but she is aware of her looks and plays them up.

I’d like to drop her from the group and ask her to focus on current clients vs networking. Am I being a hypocrite?

I think you’re being honest, Reader J — a lot more than most people would be in person. I don’t think this is unusual, though; I think a lot of younger women alienate good mentors by being too entitled (like the reader who expected her boss to help her network) or arrogant at work, or, here, too focused on other parts of life like flirting. (We have offered some tips in the past on how to network with older women that may help younger readers here!)

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Alumni Mentoring and Networking: What Works, What Doesn’t

Alumni Mentoring and Networking | CorporetteHave you found great mentors through alumni events? What is the best alumni event (or networking event in general) that you’ve ever attended? Have you done alumni mentoring, on either side? I attended a great Northwestern networking and mentoring event last week through an alumnae group I’m involved with, Council of 100, and in our small group sessions the topic got around to general networking events organized by the school — what NU was doing that was good, what it was doing that was bad, and so forth. To be honest, neither of my institutions — Northwestern and Georgetown — have really great alumni networking systems in place. Students reach out to alumni for informational interviews, but there is no established system (at least that I’m aware of) for students to discover alumni that may be off the beaten path (like, say, me). One of the great ideas I thought we came up with was to have an alumni database organized not just by company, but by favorite professor or class at the college — then you could look up people who were like you and see what paths their careers had taken.

Anyway, I’m curious, ladies — have you found mentors through alumni events? What is your school doing right (or wrong)? Are you involved in alumni events?

(Pictured: Board of Governors Dinner, May 2010-2, originally uploaded to Flickr by Alan C.)

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How to Tell Your Beloved Mentor You’re Quitting

How to Quit When Your Mentor Is Your Boss | CorporetteYou’ve been offered a new job — but how do you tell your beloved mentor and boss that? Reader L wonders how to quit your job when your mentor is your boss.

I am a fifth year associate and have been at my current firm for just over a year. Recently, an unexpected job opportunity presented itself and over the course of the past two months I have quietly been going through the interview process. Simultaneously, a mentor at work offered me a few great opportunities. For example, I tried and won my first jury trial! I’ve now been offered this new job and am going to take it. My question is how best to handle my resignation when my mentor has so recently invested in my development. I feel like I am somehow betraying him! Help, please.

We’ve talked about how to quit your job with style and grace, as well as how to conduct an exit interview, but we haven’t talked about the often emotional side of leaving, including the tough job of telling your beloved mentor or boss that you’ve taken a new job. I have a few thoughts up front: [Read more…]

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