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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