f you are looking for a way to expand your knowledge, skills, opportunities, and network within a given field, mentorship and executive sponsorship may be for you. Though they may differ slightly in their goals and methods, mentors and executive sponsors play an integral role in developing a person’s career.

Mentors can advise self-management and personal career development, while corporate sponsors can supercharge your professional network. Each role advises people in their career paths, teaches them how to become leaders, and can help them grow their network within the given industry.

Mentorship is usually initiated by programs offered through an organization. In most cases, a mentor will have experience relative to your field. Mentorship relationships can vary in age, as some people may find themselves having a mentor that is about the same age, older, or sometimes younger.

Those with a younger mentor often find themselves in a reverse mentorship situation. Reverse mentorship is helpful to those who have an interest in learning skills that are more widely known to a younger generation. An example of this would be an older professional trying to learn new tools and techniques in tech. 

Having a mentor can benefit your professional development because it allows you to learn from someone who has experienced similar situations that you may be encountering or will encounter within your role. In many cases, mentors will be able to provide advice and guidance that reflects their personal experiences within their previous and current positions.

A mentor’s primary concern is to provide you with the skills and expertise necessary to advance your career. It is common for mentors to clarify your chosen or ideal career path, but they don’t play as much of a hands-on role in getting you into those positions. This is where an executive sponsor can be beneficial. 

In contrast to a mentor, an executive sponsor is a person, usually in a senior position in an organization, who can introduce you to and help you secure visibility with critical contacts. Finding an executive sponsor can significantly advance your career because they can advocate for you to be put on new projects and roles, open new doors for you, and help you make valuable connections with other highly recognized professionals.

Fostering a relationship with an executive sponsor can be especially important for people who have historically been excluded from positions of power and prestige. It is no secret that women and people of color are often overlooked when being considered for promotions or career-changing opportunities. This can be partially attributed to the structural dynamics of organizations that are rooted in unconscious bias. Career sponsorship offers an opportunity for these structural limitations to be challenged. 

After understanding the importance of career sponsorship, the question becomes: how do I find my executive sponsor? To begin, remember that the essence of this relationship works similarly to other relationships you have formed throughout your life. Although this relationship differs because of its professional nature, it is still essential to find a sponsor to whom you can relate.

Some similarities to look for can be graduating from the same university, being familiar with each other’s hometown, or having shared hobbies and interests. If the examples mentioned do not work as points of similarity in your situation, you can find other ways to relate to a potential sponsor, such as identifying ways you may be able to help them in their projects.

Developing a connection will take some time, but there are ways to accelerate the process, such as taking advantage of leadership development programs when your organization offers them. These programs often consist of workshops that allow you to gain exposure to leaders in your industry. You must listen carefully to their feedback and look for other ways of interaction to create a sponsorship over time. 

An additional way to create a sponsorship can be reaching out to your manager and inquiring about setting up a meeting with your skip-level manager, which is your manager’s manager. This can be a semi-annual meeting where you can introduce yourself to someone with higher authority that can include you in new projects. Since your skip-level manager has a more adequately informed perspective of the company’s direction, they may be able to find opportunities for you that align with your career objectives.  

It is important to remember that to create a successful sponsorship relationship in the workplace, you should be very clear about your goals and limitations. Share important insights on what you envision for your future career, such as taking up a position in management or trying a different role in another department.

In addition to speaking about the things you look for in a job, be honest about what you wouldn’t like to do. For example, if you are unwilling to relocate to another state or country, make sure your sponsor is aware of this to consider these points when suggesting new position openings or introducing you to potential future projects. 

Advancing in your career can be accomplished with the help of your community and network. Look for opportunities to create relationships with people as they could lead to mentorship and sponsorship. Understand that this relationship is transactional, meaning you would like to learn from people. 

Always come into these relationships with the desire to learn and ensure that they are the best fit for you.

This may mean occasionally evaluating whether the mentorship and sponsorship fulfills your needs and making changes if necessary. By keeping an active and effective relationship with your mentors and corporate sponsors, you can give yourself the best career and professional growth opportunities. As time moves on and you advance in your career, you can even continue the cycle and give back—becoming a mentor or corporate sponsor yourself. 

This article was first published on HackerNOON


Lomit Patel is the Chief Growth Officer of Tynker, with 20 years of experience helping startups grow into successful businesses. Lomit previously played a critical role in scaling growth at startups, including Roku (IPO), TrustedID (acquired by Equifax), Texture (acquired. by Apple), and IMVU (#2 top-grossing gaming app). Lomit is a public speaker, author, and advisor, with numerous accolades and awards throughout his career, including being recognized as a Mobile Hero by Liftoff. Lomit's book Lean AI is part of Eric Ries' best-selling "The Lean Startup" series.