The Role of Mentors and Sponsors in Advancing Your Tech Career

Here's how effectively engaging with mentors and earning sponsors can boost your tech career.

4 Min Read
the role of mentors and sponsors in advancing your tech career
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Most successful business leaders recognize that their personal and professional growth is a journey made not alone but with the help of many others. Indeed, a Stanford executive coaching survey revealed that 80% of CEOs had some mentorship during their careers. Even if one’s destination isn’t the C suite, the benefits of mentorship are real, especially when it comes to your tech career.

A five-year study by Gartner showed that one in four employees who participated in a mentorship program had a salary-grade change (compared with one in 20 who didn’t participate). The study also showed that mentees are promoted five times more often than those without mentors.

With so much value attached to mentorship, Cheryl Rang, Ingram Micro’s Executive Director of Data Center Solutions, recently led a Women of the Channel Peer Networking discussion on the importance of mentors and sponsors in advancing your tech career.

“Put most simply, a mentor talks with you, providing guidance and advice as an experienced or trusted advisor,” explained Rang. “For example, a mentor might help you lead your first project, setting objectives and realistic timelines. A mentor shouldn’t just tell you what to do, but act as a candid sounding board and ask challenging questions to help you identify what steps you should take.”

Alternatively, a sponsor talks about you, promoting you inside the organization to help gain visibility and hopefully help you advance based on the merits of your accomplishments (aided by your mentor).

Four Characteristics of a Good Mentor

Not just anyone can or should be your mentor. Rang shared the following advice when trying to identify a potential mentor.

  1. Compatibility­­–Seek a mentor with whom you can have a healthy dialog. You don’t have to always agree (in fact, always agreeing could be a problem), but you must be able to talk freely.

  2. Contrast–Seek a mentor with a diverse background or role that allows them to bring a unique perspective or one that fills gaps in your current knowledge or experience.

  3. Expertise–Seek a mentor who has deep experience. Perhaps they have vertical knowledge or have worked as a vendor or an end customer and can provide a depth of experience you don’t have.

  4. Trust–There’s an element of vulnerability in working with a mentor. Therefore, seek one you can trust. Trust is required to get the most out of a relationship.

Mentorship in Action

Rang shared that she currently has three mentors at Ingram Micro and some mentor-like relationships for specific situations. Some are above her level in the organization, while some are below. Each mentor provides a unique benefit, more important than their level within the org chart.

For example, Rang says her career experiences were limited to regional issues. She lacked global expertise, so she identified a mentor in a global position who could advise her. As a result, she now has access to a global perspective that can help her make decisions more holistically. Rang also has an empowering mentor who encourages and helps build confidence. Her third mentor acts as a sounding board for ideas and presentations. Rang meets with each separately and depending on the circumstances.

Engaging with a Potential Mentor

Falling into a mentor-mentee relationship can happen in different ways. One path is simple: Just ask. Rang suggests approaching a potential mentor with something simple: “Here’s what I’m working on, and here’s why I think you could help me.” Then, approach a mentor with a plan and a potential meeting schedule, showing your commitment to the process.

Rang also recommends finding potential mentors within projects and interactions you’ve already had. “Approach a mentor from the perspective of, ‘We worked together, and I was impressed with what you brought to the situation. I think I could learn a lot from you,’” she says.

Finally, Rang recommends leveraging associations and networking groups (like the Women of the Channel Peer Networking group) to find mentors who are already aligned with your needs in some way.

“While mentors help you skill up, sponsors help you move up,” says Rang. “Both are important to your growth. Often, you don’t know who sponsors are, and you probably can’t just recruit one like a mentor.” Rather, she says, you’ll be having a conversation where someone mentions that your name came up in a meeting related to how well you handled a particular project. That’s a sponsor, someone advocating for you when you aren’t in the room. It’s someone who brings your name into the conversation when you aren’t around to do so yourself.

You must earn sponsors through trust and a proven track record. However, Rang also suggests that you be vocal about your goals and aspirations. “Get comfortable talking about where you want to be and what types of projects you’d like to be a part of,” she says. “A sponsor who understands your aspirations can help pull you into the projects and positions you’re targeting for your career.”

With the right mentors and sponsors in your corner, you’re much more likely to hit your career goals. Follow Rang’s advice and see the benefits yourself.

This guest blog is part of a Channel Futures sponsorship.

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