Having resources in your career is crucial. Some people may immediately assume that all they need is a single mentor who can link them to where they want to go in life. Though mentors are a great resource to have, they aren't the only one you should have in your career. You should also have a sponsor.
The difference between a mentor and a sponsor
Consider the two words. A mentor is someone who gives you sound advice on your career and offers tips on how to propel your goals forward. They also may guide you away from what not to do. These aspects are all great, especially when you're beginning your career.1 However, a sponsor is a little different. They will talk about you and your skills to people and possible employers. They essentially create a case on your behalf for why you're the greatest candidate for the job.
They protect your career
Sponsors can help protect you in your career when you choose to make a few riskier decisions, such as asking for a promotion or going against the normal rules.2 They also may shield you from company-wide layoffs or demotions. Now, who doesn't want that?
Sponsors propel you forward
Though mentors may give you good advice on how to seek out that promotion, sponsors help you get it. If you find yourself consistently moving up at a company, you most likely have someone behind you helping you out and pushing you forward. Of course, what they say needs to be true. You can't be lazy at work and expect your sponsor to help you out. You already need to be succeeding on your own, but the higher-ups aren't noticing. That's where the sponsor comes in.
How to get a sponsor
Unlike a mentor, you often don't seek a sponsor out. Normally, regardless of the career you're in, sponsors will come to you. They often are a person of higher-standing who has done well in their own career, and has a lot of pull at the company. They're someone everyone will listen to. In order for you to be picked by a sponsor, you have to stand out. You need to show your capabilities and skills and make yourself noticed while doing it. Try to volunteer to help out in the office or take on extra projects. If you sit in the shadows, you most likely won't be sought out by a sponsor. Though you don't have much choice in the matter, you want to try and seek out good potential sponsors. Aside from their influence at the company, try to identify three or four people who have continuously done well and who seem to be scouting for new talent. Though it may not seem obvious at first, in time it will become clear who these people are.
When to get one
Unlike mentors, sponsors are usually company-specific, though they may be able to help you later on. You may realize that you have more than one sponsor as you shift from job to job. If you create a good relationship with each, however, you will have those connections for life and may be able to reference them down the road.