Generally, when we think of a professional sponsor, we think of vendors or organizations who sponsor an organization or provide resources and materials for an association event. But have you ever considered the idea of having your own personal sponsor for a networking event? While this is not something many professionals have considered, it is a fantastic idea that can give you the upper hand when attending networking events. A sponsor can even be used for your job search or to help you secure a promotion!
What is a professional sponsor? Think of them as similar to a mentor or career coach, but different in a few ways. Mentors typically provide longer-term support and advice, while a sponsor would be someone you leverage for specific one-time situations, including having different sponsors for different reasons. A sponsor is a successful or well-connected professional who is usually well-known, respected, or has a large network who can make key introductions for you that you might not be able to make on your own. While we do commend and support any professional who has the courage to make new connections on their own, often you will have more success meeting a new person through a mutual connection. This mutual connection could be your sponsor. Here are three ways you can leverage a sponsor.
Networking events. Before attending a networking event, determine what opportunities are available to you. Is there someone you want to meet such as a potential client or someone who works in the industry you want to work in? Now consider which experienced professionals in your network could attend the event with you or who are already attending the event. As a sponsor, they would make introductions and talk positively about you. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s simply like having an experienced wingman or woman with you to help you feel more confident and provide easier access to people you wouldn’t have otherwise. A sponsor could also be a friend or family member who attends an event with you for moral support.
Consider each event in advance and decide what your goal would be for the event and determine who you would like to tap based on that situation. For example, you can ask a former co-worker or friend to attend an event with you, help you prepare in advance and talk you up during conversations. Asking someone to be your sponsor doesn’t have to be a formal request; simply reaching out to ask if they could assist you with introductions at the event is enough. However, be specific with what you would like to ask of them and ensure they are comfortable with that role. Practice in advance what they might say about you in a group conversation, if possible.
Job search. If you see that one of your connections knows the hiring manager for a job you are applying for or someone you would like to conduct an informational interview with, reach out to them and ask if they would sponsor you. They can then let the hiring manager know they have a friend (you) who would be a good fit for the position. They can also send you a referral application link, which lets the employer know you are being referred (versus applying online using the public link for the position opening) and can give you higher preference in the recruiting process. You can also ask them if they are willing to provide advice to you as you progress through the hiring process such as how to adjust your resume for the position based on buzzwords and strengths the company is looking for, anything they would recommend you prepare for an interview, and suggestions for following up.
To get a raise or promotion. A sponsor for a promotion would be someone well-regarded and above you within your organization. As you begin the process of preparing to ask for a promotion by developing your Promotion Document, include in your plan to secure a sponsor for the process as well. Identify someone within your organization that knows your strengths and skill set well enough to speak on your behalf during the process. They could do one or more of the following: Set up a meeting to speak with your supervisor to discuss your qualifications, write a recommendation letter for why they feel you should be promoted, and develop a list of specific qualifications to share with your manager regarding your leadership strengths and projects you’ve worked on which demonstrate you are ready for the next level. (To conduct a complimentary consultation to learn more about how we can assist you with creating your Promotion Document or how to find and leverage a sponsor, go here.)
Of course, remember to make yourself available to your connections as a sponsor when possible as well - Give back! If all professionals sponsor each other from time to time, this will help everyone create unique opportunities and advance in their career.