Level up your career
Are you looking for someone to help you take your career to the next level? Are you hoping to find someone this year who can provide guidance on your development, help with potential career decisions you’re facing, or who will advocate for you around leaders?
If you’re looking to advance in your career this year, you should consider asking for help. Someone to offer you guidance, mentorship, etc. If you nodded along to any of this, keep reading.
What we’ve described so far isn’t one person, it’s actually three. So how do you know which you’re looking for? What are they called? WHERE DO YOU START? We’re here to help.
When considering asking someone to help with your career development, it’s important to consider the different roles that can be played. There are coaches, mentors, and sponsors.
If you wanted to get better at shooting a basketball, you’d find a basketball coach. Trying to improve on the piano? A piano coach.
Your career is no different. Oftentimes, you’ll seek out a coach to help you develop a specific skill set. A career coach can be someone who acts in a formal capacity or a colleague whose opinion you really admire and respect. A person acting in this role typically focuses on soft skills such as time management, networking, creative thinking, and active listening. Your coach is likely to ask you questions that only you can answer. Coaching tends to be more holistic and encompasses all areas of your life. The feedback you can expect from a coach is usually less focused on offering specific advice and is more impartial, with observations that act as constructive criticism to help you achieve better results.
The relationship between you and your coach can be casual. You should feel comfortable reaching out when you need to, and your coach will likely reach out when they see an opportunity to provide feedback.
A mentor is usually a professional who has more career experience than their mentees and is further up the corporate ladder. Your relationship with a mentor can be formal or informal and ultimately helps you navigate your own career.
A mentor typically pulls from their past experiences, shares stories, and offers advice on obstacles you may be facing to help you figure out what is the next step for you. By providing direct feedback, advice, and practical day-to-day solutions for common problems, a mentor helps you to build your professional “toolkit” for you to reference as you continue to grow in your career.
You are the primary driver of the mentor relationship. Your mentor is there to help you when you reach out and is reactive and responsive to your requests.
Carla Harris said it best “most of the important decisions about your career – promotions, assignments, compensation – usually happen when you’re not in the room.” This is where a sponsor comes in.
A sponsor is a senior leader or someone else who is highly respected within your organization and who uses their strong influence to help you stay front-of-mind when decisions about high-visibility projects, promotions, or jobs are on the line. A sponsor advocates for your career advancement and they champion your work and potential with others. This person speaks your name loudly and with enthusiasm in a room full of opportunity.
The relationship with a sponsor is different from those with a coach or mentor. A sponsor drives this relationship, they see something in you and advocate on your behalf. Sponsors often take a bigger risk than coaches or mentors, because their reputation and credibility is on the line when they offer their endorsement.
Coach vs. mentor
Coaches can be mentors, and mentors can be coaches. So how do you know which is the right fit right now? It depends on you and what you need.
A coach acts as your partner, helping you to build your self-confidence, learn a new skill, or grow your current skills. A mentor acts more as an advisor. They help you by offering guidance and direction with less hands-on assistance.
If you’re looking for a shorter-term partnership to help you in a specific career area, chances are you’re looking for a coach. If you want to build a relationship with a more senior colleague who can offer longer-term career advice and guidance, you’re looking for a mentor.
Finding a sponsor
Identifying a sponsor takes time, patience, and hard work. You cannot start a new job and immediately assume you’ll find someone who will advocate for you. So where do you start?
1. Build relationships
You can’t just ask someone to advocate for you on day one (well, you could, but it might not go well) to find a successful sponsorship relationship, you need to put an emphasis on the relationship piece. Building meaningful relationships will help you throughout your career, even if they do not turn into sponsorships. Once you have a trusting relationship in place, your leaders are much more likely to advocate on your behalf.
2. Make your value visible
Great work gains attention. If you continually deliver exceptional results, leadership will take notice and your name will be at the forefront of their mind. You don’t want to be a “best-kept secret”, let your achievements be known!
3. Ask yourself what makes a good sponsor?
Instead of seeking out people with impressive titles, learn about the people you work with who are in leadership positions. Find people you respect, whom you have things in common with (employee resource group membership, alumni associations, et.), and get to know them. Listen for leaders who often praise their teams, back them up when problems arise, and assign challenging opportunities – these are people developers and someone you may want to consider for sponsorship.
Coaching, mentoring, and sponsorship at Stryker
Working at Stryker, you’ll see all three professional development relationships on a formal and informal level. Our employee resource groups (ERGS) offer formal mentorship programs to help with career advancements. Team members coach each other daily to help make one another the best we can be, and leaders strive to develop the next generation of talent and advocate for those that they believe will help take Stryker into the future.