The New Way to Kick-Start Your Career? Seek Out a Sponsor

Penny Wrenn

mentoringWhen you think of people who have sponsors, you probably conjure images of professional cyclists or race-car drivers with company logos emblazoned on their outfits. But there’s a different kind of sponsorship that any professional—not just big-name athletes—can use to their benefit.

In her new book, “(Forget a Mentor) Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast Track Your Career,” economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett hails sponsors as modern-day career linchpins. “Like mentors, sponsors can advise and steer you, but their chief role is to develop you as a leader,” Hewlett says. Translation: A mentor can guide you to the right doors, but a sponsor will help you knock them down—and even knock them down for you.

And Hewlett certainly knows a thing or two about the benefits of having a great sponsor. Before she went on to launch her highly successful think tank, the Center for Talent Innovation, she says that sponsorship was “crucial to my education and earning a coveted spot at Cambridge University.”

Given her positive experiences, we asked Hewlett to share her top tips for attracting the right sponsor—and the key mistakes to avoid along the way.

Where did you get the idea to write this book?

I grew up in the poor Welsh mining valleys of Britain, and I knew early on that I wanted to have a better life than what my surroundings could offer. I was fortunate to have quite a few vital sponsors who supported my education and my career. I also learned early in life that meritocracy and hard work will only get you so far in this world—sponsors are the ones who really create traction for you, and bring your career to the next level.

What’s the difference between a sponsor and a mentor?

In short, mentors advise, while sponsors act. Sponsors deliver by making you visible to leaders within the company, as well as top people outside. They connect you to career opportunities, and provide air cover when you encounter trouble. When it comes to opening doors, they don’t stop with one promotion—they’ll see you to the threshold of power.

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    Yes! Way to distinguish and appreciate the very different but equally helpful two :) Manja!