What to Know About Each
You’ve almost certainly heard about the importance of having people in your field to advance your career and expand your prospects. However, differentiating between the terms can become confusing. Here is the difference between a mentor vs. sponsor and how to find career support.
As you research the specifics of a mentor vs. sponsor, you’ll also likely come across content about career coaches. Here’s a breakdown of sponsors, mentors, and coaches.
Sponsorship involves a situation where a respected, senior-level businessperson with an excellent network uses their reputation and connections to help someone who doesn’t have such clout yet. A sponsor is personally involved in your career success and will utilize their network to provide opportunities you couldn’t get on your own.
On the other hand, a mentor is a person in any position with experience and advice desirable to others. Mentoring relationships are often long term and could last for years.
Finally, a coach is a person offering short-term, hands-on instruction to improve specific skills. For example, a person may seek a business coach to prepare for an intensive interview or get better equipped for meetings with potential investors.
Let’s take a closer look at some other specifics about mentor vs. sponsor differences.
1. Career Vision Capabilities
According to a report from Stanford, a mentor can help a person create a vision for their career, but a sponsor has the resources to directly assist them in reaching that vision. For example, a sponsor may introduce someone to a high-level person in their network with a potential job opportunity.
2. Network Access
Another important distinction is that a sponsor either gives a person access to their existing network or offers to create new connections for them. However, a mentor’s network facilitation is less direct.
Instead of the mentor using their direct influence to help a mentee build their network, they’ll focus on self-empowerment. The mentor might share tips related to how they networked with others in the early stages of their career, or offer strategies for feeling more confident when meeting new people.
3. The Nature of Information Sharing
You’ve probably wished someone would tell you all the unwritten rules of corporate culture or a particular industry that only become evident through experience. A mentor can do that for you by passively sharing all the secrets they’ve learned through the years.
A sponsor’s role is more direct. They model the ideal behavior for sponsored people to show, and may create specific opportunities that accelerate advancement. A sponsor might arrange for you to accompany them on a three-week trip to Europe to pitch a new product. You’d get to see many of the unwritten rules firsthand and much earlier than you otherwise would.
Some people may explain why you need a sponsor, not a mentor. However, it’s vital to realize that both may be equally valuable to you for different reasons. Additionally, there’s some crossover between these definitions, as you’ll see in the below example that relates to sponsorship vs. mentorship for diversity.
Professional services leader at Esko, Vanessa Lin, spoke of her experiences when a vice president in the company’s professional services division took her under his wing. “It was another person of color that saw me, saw my talent, and wanted to help put me in the spotlight. Of course, it was up to me to show up and deliver the goods, but having an advocate like that, a true mentor, really made a difference,” Lin stated.
Lin refers to that person as a mentor, but it appears he also took a more active role by making sure others noticed her talent. Others familiar with the two definitions, such as EnPointe’s CEO, Chantal Brine, say the results achieved by the supported person are particularly vital in a sponsorship. That’s because someone who is sponsored will likely feel the ramifications of their successes or failures. Therefore, having a sponsor could help you feel more accountable for your actions.
Another thing to consider is that a sponsorship often occurs in a shared working environment. That’s not necessarily the case with mentor and mentee relationships. Sometimes, those parties may be in the same field but not working in the same organization.
These distinctions should help you realize there will almost certainly be times in your career when you can benefit from both sponsors and mentors. A lot depends on your goals at a given time.
Perhaps you’re now at the point where you’re ready to find some career support. One possible way to do that is to use a dedicated mentoring platform. It can help you find a broader assortment of options that may be available locally. However, these services should supplement in-person networking events rather than replace them.
Consider how mentoring and sponsorship fit into your respective industry, too. For example, the tech sector is notorious for being exceptionally difficult to break into for women and other minority groups. However, initiatives like the mentorship program offered by Leaders of Tech could spur positive change.
Once you find a mentor or sponsor, take the time to have in-depth discussions about what each party can or should offer. That way, everyone will have accurate expectations from the start. That said, if you’re looking for a mentor to help you achieve your next goal, here are the top platforms you can use to find a mentor.
Whether you pursue mentorship, sponsorship, or both, ensure you have a clear idea of where you want to go in your career. It’s OK not to have the full vision mapped out yet.
However, sponsors and mentors want the people they support to be highly motivated and driven. Staying focused on what you hope to achieve and working hard toward those goals can help you catch the attention of people who can help you go further.