Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What Are You Prepared to Say to a Prospective Career Sponsor?

This is the second in a series of posts that explores the steps that you can take to secure a sponsor.  In my first blog on this topic I suggested five actions for obtaining a sponsor:
  1. Know who you are and what you want
  2. Develop your brand
  3. Network with senior executives
  4. Volunteer for cross-functional projects
  5. Approach and secure a sponsor

This blog tackles the first action:  Know who you are and what you want.

Studies show that sponsors clear the path for career advancement, but the inability for women to connect with senior management in securing sponsorship is one of the biggest barriers to their career advancement.  A sponsor is a senior manager in the organization who actively advocates for your career advancement and is in a position of influence to help push it forward.  

Before others can advocate on your behalf to help advance your career they need to know your passions, strengths and values, and your vision of your career path.  You must be clear on your career goals and know who you are and what you stand for before others can help you.  If others don’t know what you want and the value you bring, they can’t help you move your career forward. The following happened recently and illustrates the importance of these points.
I was talking during a break between the educational sessions at a recent professional meeting with several attendees.  During our conversation the topic of career progression came up.  One of the attendees offered that she was working on a second Master’s degree.  I asked her what type of position she saw herself obtaining after her studies concluded.  Her response was, “I’m not sure, there are so many opportunities.”  Since this was a vague response, I probed her some more and asked her to narrow down the opportunities.  She replied with an equally vague response:  “Something in compliance.”
At this point, I turned to another attendee, who was also completing a Master’s, and asked the same question. In contrast to the previous response, this person provided not only a specific goal, but also gave a picture of his passion:  “I see financial management as being critical in healthcare.  I’m going to take my current background and education and in five years be the CFO of a smaller healthcare organization. My ultimate goal is to be the CFO of a large healthcare system.”
Wow!  You can see the difference between the two answers.  The first one lacks clarity and sense of purpose.  In the second one, however, the energy, confidence, and determination just jump off the page.  The response not only includes a specific goal, but also offers a picture of this person’s passion.  My immediate reaction was to engage in further conversation and offer him ideas on how he could reach his five-year goal.

It was not lost on me that there was a gender difference in the responses. While the above example is a snapshot in time, it conforms to findings of research studies that show, on average, that women are less clear about career goals and have lower confidence, ambition, and career expectations.  Lack of career clarity has been cited as a significant barrier in holding women back.  So beefing up career clarity is especially important for women.
So how do you develop career clarity?  Here are some questions that can help you clarify your career vision:

  • What are your strengths? (To identify your strengths, take the VIA 24 Character Strengths survey from Penn State available for free at www.authentichappiness.com).  Study your top five strengths.  Usually you are at your best and most fulfilled when you are using these strengths.
  • Think about a time that you were at your personal best.  What strengths did you use that helped you perform well?  Are these in the top 10 of your VIA strengths?
  • What do you like to do?  What is your passion?  Write these down.  Assess how these mesh with your top strengths.
  • What would you like to achieve in life (your vision or legacy)?  Write this down.
  • Given your vision, strengths, and passion, define your career path.  Where do you want to   be in 15 years?  Write this down.
  • What must you do in the next year, in 3 years, in 5 years and in 10 years to get where you want to be in 15 years?  Write out a plan for each of these time periods to get you where you want to be.
  • When a prospective sponsor asks you what your career future looks like what are you now prepared to say?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Sponsors clear the path for career advancement. But how do you get one?

Networking plays a critical role in career advancement.  An important part of the network portfolio is having a sponsor within your work organization. In simple terms, a sponsor is a senior manager in the organization who actively advocates for your career advancement and is in a position of influence to help push it forward.  But according to studies from Rock Health, (http://www.slideshare.net/RockHealth/rock-report-iii-women-in-healthcare), McKinsey (www.mckinsey.com/.../PDFs/Women_matter_mar2012_english.ashx), Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304746604577381953238775784.html), and others, a top barrier to career advancement for women is the lack of this type of sponsor.  So how can women secure a sponsor at work? 
Many companies are trying to turn this phenomenon around by instituting formal mentor and sponsorship programs.  If you are fortunate to work for this type of company, be proactive and join the program. 

If your company does not have a sponsorship program, the following is an overview of some preparatory actions you can take.  In the following weeks, I’ll step you through each of these, giving you more specifics, ideas, and examples of how these actions can be executed.
1.       Know who you are and what you want. Clarify your career goals before seeking a sponsor and hone your elevator speech. Know your passion and strengths and be prepared to share these as well as your previous successes and career ambitions with others.  If people don’t know what you want and the value you bring, they can’t help you move your career forward. 

2.       Develop your brand.  A brand signifies how you want others to think about you.  It includes your values, attitude, physical appearance, affective behavior, emotional intelligence, your knowledge and the value you project.

3.       Network with senior executives.  Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself at meetings to prospective sponsors, or volunteer for projects, committees, and initiatives that will give you visibility and that the prospective sponsor champions. A word of caution:  you must perform.  That means your work on projects and other initiatives must be outstanding. Senior managers are NOT going to advocate for someone they don’t know and who cannot produce and execute.

4.       Volunteer for cross-functional projects and initiatives and then perform well.  This will give you heighten visibility throughout the organization and showcase your brand and performance. 

5.       When you believe that you have established yourself through these steps, you can approach a prospective sponsor.  (It may be the case that you won’t have to approach a sponsor; the sponsor will approach you after seeing your value).  Make an appointment with the prospective sponsor.  In the meeting be clear that you are looking for a sponsor relationship.  Be direct about the value you bring and where you want your career to go. Let the prospective sponsor know that you are open for opportunities that can advance your career.