Who’s helping you get ahead in your career? If you’re struggling or feeling stuck trying to make a change or get to the next level, it may be because you don’t have the right people on your team to get you there.
That’s right, I said it: a team. Gone are the days when you could send out some résumés, land a job, and expect to have a clear path laid out for your career. The average person changes roles upwards of 14 times over the course of their working life, often not only changing jobs but also shifting from being an employee to a freelancer, changing industries or even professions.
To navigate these complicated waters, you’re going to need some help. When you read articles about career development, you’ll typically hear some common advice. Find a mentor. Hire a career coach. Make sure you have a sponsor. That’s all good advice, but it can be a little confusing to understand who does what and why you might need some or all of these people to help you find your way to work you enjoy. First, let’s take a look at who’s who.
A mentor is a person you look up to. It’s typically someone who is a few years ahead of you in their career, and you feel has the ability to offer you advice and guidance based on their experience. A good mentor has an interest in your success. They don’t specifically need to be in the same industry as you are in, as long as they have general knowledge that’s helpful to you. You may have multiple mentors, and you’ll meet with them informally over coffee or lunch or feel comfortable shooting them a quick e-mail when you have a question.
A sponsor is someone in your own organization who is higher on the org chart than you are. They talk about you when you are not in the room, and by that I mean they throw your hat in the ring when senior management asks who might be a good fit for an opportunity, a promotion, or a special project. This is a person who has a vested interest in seeing you progress in your career and has access to the people who can make that happen.
Whether you hired your coach or one was provided to you by your organization, a coach is a person who is paid to work with you to execute your career plan. A coaching relationship is active and has two-way accountability. Unlike a mentor, who you might meet with on a casual basis, a coaching relationship is more structured, involving regular conversations, specific activities, goal planning, and other directed activities to help you define and achieve your career goals.
Friends and Family
Your inner circle can certainly give you advice, and it will likely be free. The challenge is that the guidance you get from your friends and family may be biased or out of date. Our parents, with the best of intentions, told us what worked for them when they were working, which is not necessarily what works today. Your friends think you’re great, but they may not have insight into your professional strengths and growth opportunities. They will likely focus on the positive, which won’t help you see where you need to improve.
Who do you need to help you get to where you want to be? The answer to that depends on where you are. You don’t necessarily need to run out and find five mentors, hire a coach, and look for a sponsor. If you are established in an organization and want to break through into the executive suite, a sponsor is probably the person you need the most.
If you’re frustrated with your current role and want to work with someone who will help you make a plan, and hold you accountable, a coach is a good choice. We all need mentors, but these are typically relationships that develop over the course of your career. You probably already have some; you might just need to reach out and reconnect in a more intentional way.