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Mentors, Sponsors, and your Personal Board of Directors

How to leverage your network and websites like MentorCruise to find mentors, how to nurture your relationship with mentors, and how to turn them into sponsors that will advocate for your career growth.
Mariana Carvalho

Career Mentor, Women in Technology

You may have heard me talk about the importance of having mentors: whether they are career, personal development, or technical mentors.

Each mentor plays an important role in our development as human beings, and knowing how to nurture these relationships is key to having long-term professional success.

Let’s get straight to the point: What’s the difference between Mentors and Sponsors? And what is a Personal Board of Directors?

Mentors are those people who will share their professional journeys with you. They will share mistakes and successes and the rocky paths of a journey you may be looking to take.

Your mentors will help you prepare for professional opportunities. They will give you feedback on a certain topic or question. They will help you develop a new skill. They will point you to books, resources, and tools for you to take the next step in your career.

Your mentor’s main interest is to guide you, show you the paths of the stones, tell you how situations were for them in the past, and advise you to make decisions in the future.

Our mentors don’t necessarily have to be the same as us (most of my mentors are male, 20 years older than I, and Americans). I learn a lot from them, and as I am building my professional career in the US, having people like them helps me A LOT!

When looking for mentors, make sure there is a relationship of trust.

Trust will come with time, of course. But when making the first connections, use your intuition to know if there is a two-way street in the relationship.

Find mentors from your first or second-degree contacts. People who already work with you. Or have already worked. Find out how, when and how much to approach them. Don’t be invasive. You can find them on LinkedIn, ask for introductions, at the academia, or past jobs and companies you worked for (even if it was an internship).

Another way to find mentors is using platforms like MentorCruise, where you can sort by areas of expertise, price range, and availability and find the ones that fit your goals the best!

What are Sponsors, and how to find them?

Sponsors are those people who will talk about you in a room full of opportunities. They will be people who know you and have already seen the result of your work. Mentors can become sponsors, but this is not the rule. They will be people who know you and have already seen the result of your work. Mentors can become sponsors, but this is not the rule.

Sponsors will advocate for you. With your sponsors, you have to be clear about your professional goals since they will be the ones moving the strings to help you get a new job position, a promotion or connect you with someone who would be hard to reach on your own. 

Sponsors = advocates

They often have positions of influence within the company or organization and help open doors for you. They will suggest your name for a particular project or position. Their main interest is to see you making tangible progress (promotion, pay raises, new responsibilities, and opportunities).

You can find sponsors in your 1st or 2nd-degree networks; your own mentor can become your sponsor, as I mentioned. For them to become a sponsor, it is good to align expectations and clearly ask them if they would be able to advocate for you inside the company.

Other times, a mentor can connect you with a person who will eventually become your sponsor and open doors for you within the company.

Your sponsors may be people you’ve worked with in the past but don’t meet regularly. Someone you communicate with about what you have done and your professional achievements.

Your sponsors will emerge as you connect with more people, tell more about your history and your achievements, and nurture valuable relationships.

Mentors and sponsors can also be part of what is called: Personal Board of Directors.

A few years ago, I had a conversation with one of my mentors, and he asked me if I had ever created my own Personal Board of Directors. I said: “Personal what?”. “No, I am not a company”, and I laughed.

He said: “Well, you should treat your career as a company and invest in yourself every time you can”. And continued: “Be intentional about developing relationships with people who can listen to you, give you honest feedback, and help you develop”.

A Personal Board of Directors is a group of individuals who can provide you with guidance, support, and advice to an individual in their personal and professional life.

You typically choose these individuals and can include mentors, peers, friends, family members, and colleagues.

The purpose of a Personal Board of Directors is to help the individual achieve their goals, provide feedback, and hold them accountable. They can also provide perspective and help the individual navigate challenging situations.

The PBoD is important for your long-term professional goals. Being surrounded by people you admire and trust is important for your personal and professional development. Leverage your network and your mentor’s and sponsor’s network as well.

Your Network = Your Net worth

Some of the roles of the "directors" in your PBoD are technical mentor (someone who can guide you technically); a peer (that you can have as your sounding board); a senior peer (someone who has been in your shoes in the past); a leader inside the company (that can guide you with the politics of the corporate world); a friend that is outside of your industry to give you honest feedback about any issues/questions you might have about your communications skills).


Below, I share a video I like on the Power of Sponsorship, by Carla Harris, where she talks about being vulnerable, speaking up, nurturing relationships and how a sponsor can take you further in your career, especially if you are in corporate America:

TED: How to find the person who can help you get ahead at work, by Carla Harris

I hope you like it!

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