Have you asked,
which is right for you at this stage of your career?
Three professionals known in their organizations and networking circles for being a mentor, advocate, sponsor or all three, provided their insight at an SEH Employee Resource Group for Women in STEM.
Each gave their unique perspective of how informal or formal mentorship programs work for them and how they help others. Tricia Walker, a Supplier Quality Engineering Manager with Medtronic, finds rich relationships valuable, regardless of their formal or informal standing. Holli Pheil, an Engineering Program Director with Nike, shared how her mentoring and advocate relationships prepared her for a new role in her company. And, Jon Chase, President and CEO of Deere-Hitachi, emphasized the important role leaders play in developing employees and the commitment it takes.
To know what’s right for you, start with a short assessment.
Identifying what will help you succeed in reaching your goals and aspirations today and down the road is the first step. Chase advises to be cognizant of what you’re trying to achieve. Is it technical? Is it career advancement now or later? Is it leadership?
1. Are you looking for someone outside of your direct reporting structure to support and guide you?
If you said yes, then a mentor might be your best option. A mentor is someone typically outside your reporting structure that supports and guides you as you progress through your career. “I find employees may be less receptive to talk about areas of development with their direct supervisor, which is why a mentor is often outside that chain of command,” says Chase. Walker echoed Chase’s response by saying having a mentor outside your group gives you the opportunity to be more transparent.
2. Are you looking for someone who speaks highly of you, wants to work with you?
Yes. Then an advocate is your best option. This is someone in your company or organization who speaks highly of you and vouches for your strengths. In this case, you may not need a mentor, but want to build your brand through your advocates. Chase encourages employees to make it easy for advocates by identifying five things you want your advocate to highlight and others to know about you. Your personal brand.
3. Are you looking for someone in an influential position who can connect you with the right opportunities?
A sponsor may be the right person for you. This is someone who has the ability to open doors for you. This may be a person inside or outside your company in an influential position who connects you with the right people and opportunities.
You may have answered yes to all three of the questions. And that’s OK. Depending upon where you are in your career you may need only one or all relationship types. A mentor, advocate or sponsor can all be the same person or they can be different people. It’s helpful to understand the differences between the roles because it helps you articulate what you’d like to receive. “During my career, I had more advocates than mentors as that’s what worked for me,” says Walker.
Now, take a deeper dive to define what you would like in a mentor, advocate or sponsor relationship. Once you define this, share with others to help you get connected with the most appropriate person.
Again, you may want all these characteristics in a mentor, advocate or sponsor. Take time to think about which is most important as it will help you focus and achieve greater success.
Pheil: Grab coffee with 10+ different people to understand them, their background with formal and informal mentorships and then you’ll be able to focus on what’s best for you. Use professional organizations to meet others. Next, develop goals.
Walker: Put yourself out there. Volunteer. Get involved. Attend networking events. Many relationships happen by “accident.” Be patient as relationships don’t happen overnight.
Chase: Find people with similar backgrounds/interests/schools and then look for common ground as a means of connection. First connect with people you know including your manager. Let technology be your friend.
Download this worksheet to help you determine what is best for you.
Mentor, Advocate, Sponsor: Which is Right for You?
As you progress through your career, continue to assess what is best for you. Some mentors, advocates or sponsors last an entire career. Some serve an immediate purpose and may last through a specific job change or advancement. “Whether I need a mentor or advocate ebbs and flows according to where I’m at in my career and the challenges I’m facing,” shared Pheil. Walker expanded on this to say, “It’s important to always ask ‘what are we trying to achieve’ or ‘is there a mutual benefit.’”
All organizations and companies have the opportunity to help connect employees with the resource or resources that will help them with their career. The upside, whether a program is formal or informal, is employees who know they have support systems. These employees are often more engaged and retention is high. That’s a win-win for everyone.
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Lindsey Roberts McKenzie understands the importance of professional connections. A founder of the SEH Women in STEM initiative, she encourages her colleagues to mentor and advocate for others. She also finds solutions to create clean water and renew infrastructure. Contact Lindsey
Christine Carlson is an SEH environmental scientist and project manager dedicated to protecting our environment. Christine helps lead the first SEH Employee Resource Group, Women in STEM. She is committed to helping others’ careers grow. Contact Christine
Emily Honerbrink is a visual artist who uses her talents in graphic design and video production to create impactful stories. She co-leads the SEH Employee Resource Group, Women in STEM, and helps spark important conversations. Contact Emily