(cross posted to official GHC blog)
I've known about technical mentors for a while, but I only just learned about the concept of sponsors a few months ago. I'm sorry to say at the moment I have neither :( A few years ago I had an informal mentor, but as things get hectic I kind of lost the relationship. Anyway, I was pretty excited about this panel, because I really wanted a kick to jump start my finding a mentor and/or a sponsor.
First, the panelists gave a good explanation of the difference between mentor and sponsor. A mentor is a person who has the power to create positive change in your career. They give you technical advice to help you stronger technically, steer you toward the right projects to make you more visible, help you gain leadership skill and learn how to use your technical skills more effectively, and is someone who will listen to you vent.
In comparison, a sponsor is someone who takes an active role in endorsing your work and open doors for you, they suggest new opportunities and supports you in pursuing them. A sponsor need to have a seat at the decision making table, to be your eyes and ears. They need to be closer to your organization, compared to a mentor that can be anywhere. Also, you should be careful what information you share with the sponsor, show them your good work so they can recommend and endorse you. Don't show them your struggles.
Q: Where do you find them?
A: Your manager could be an obvious choice, but it is already their job to help you. Look for your manager's peers, and anyone in senior roles. Look in social/network affinity groups, you can meet and connect with the right people through these networks. A sponsor needs to have enough influence to open doors for you, so a peer would not make a good sponsor. At the same time, you don't always have to find sponsors at executive level. You need to build good working relations with people and sometimes they'll advance to a position where they can help you. Also, recognize that sometimes someone will be your sponsor on their own, and you need to recognize that.
Q: What do you do with a technical mentor?
A: You can review your job description with them and scrub through what is expected of you. Have them help you identify area of growth, and think about how to strategically approach your career growth.
Q: What do you do with a sponsor?
A: You need this person to be your PR agent, who can extend/demonstrate your work/skills that you bring to the table. You can sometimes ask your sponsor to do things, like removing roadblocks for you.
Q: What do mentors look for in a mentee?
A: Know what they are looking for, have a goal, thirst, and passion, so they can go on a journey together and both benefit. You need to want to reach, grow, and extend yourself.
Q: Can a mentorship be bad?
A: Sometimes a mentor can tell you something you absolutely do not believe in, you may have to break up with them. Make sure you don't burn any bridges. A nice way to do that is to show that you've accomplished your goals and have them recommend a new mentor to help you with new goals. If you are in a formal mentorship program, be honest with the program manager if things aren't working out.
Q: Thoughts on informal mentor relationships?
A: There is definitely benefit in both informal and formal mentorships. In formal mentorship it forces you to articulate your objectives, and you have an opportunity to develop a deeper relationship with that person. There is less potential for that in casual mentorships. However, don't give up the casual mentors, they could lead to a more formal mentor relationship later.
Q: How do you ask someone to be your sponsor?
A: you don't necessarily need to ask them to be your official sponsor, but you can manage your interaction with them to give them more information to act on your behalf.
Whew, that is definitely a lot of useful information! Now my goal is to identify some possible candidates before I go back to work next Monday!