Finding Your Professional Advocates

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When the 19-year-old me left University, the job market was not waiting for me in open arms giving me offers left and right. I would sit on the computer applying to hundreds of jobs every day and got nothing. That’s just the reality for recent grads or even worst, someone who has not graduated and refuse to lie about it.

When I was sitting in bed feeling sorry for myself because of the lack of job offers I was receiving, I got a call. She had attended one of the events I had the privilege of planning for a non-profit, and she decided to hire me on the spot because she had seen the work I’ve done, and had faith that I would be an asset to her company. She never even looked at my resume.

Over the years I’ve accumulated what I call “professional advocates” those who helped me push forward in my career, supported my goals, and had my best interest in mind when providing advice.

What is a professional sponsorship or advocate?

The definition of a workplace sponsor or I like to call a professional sponsor is someone who knows you and your potential and have the power to advocate for your future successes, helping you find supporters, remove obstacles, provide mentorship, protect you so that you can take risks, make mistakes, and help you build onto your skills set. A sponsor is someone who believes in you, who ultimately wants you to be successful.

The thing with professional sponsors is that they do not fall from the sky. You must earn your right to have someone put their credibility or reputation on the line to help push you forward in your career.

Acquiring professional sponsors

Think about the characteristics of what makes a good employee: hard worker, willingness to learn, reliable, enthusiastic, committed, going above and beyond etc, now think about how you would use these traits to impress your direct supervisor, management or your Linkedin connections. Here are a few I would like to point out:

Taking initiative and going above and beyond your job description: I hear very often from people “That’s not my job.” Well… we know it’s not your job, and you have every right to say no, but taking the initiative to do more than what you are told to do, shows that you are capable of looking beyond yourself, and think of the greater good of the company. Not only does it show growth potential but it builds your credentials for future leadership roles. Kelvin Tran, TD Bank explained this very well. You are assigned task ‘A’ which is not fun, boring, and repetitive, so you don’t want to do it, and you cast it aside. Now an opportunity for task ‘B’ comes around, and it’s a great new project that can help you grow in the company. Well guess what, because you did not do task ‘A’ you don’t have the credentials to do task ‘B’ and now the opportunity will be given to someone else, and it goes on to task ‘C’ and task ‘D.’ To move up, you must learn and do the basics.

Reliable: It’s as simple as doing what you said you would do, and completing tasks that are assigned to you on time, on budget, superb quality.

Willingness to learn: Don’t be defensive. Make mistakes, learn from them, and ask your supervisor, mentors, or colleague how you could do better. Showing a willingness to learn and do better will encourage your peers to give you truthful advice that can help you grow.

Now that you’re working hard at the above traits, who should you approach?

How do you find professional sponsors?

Your current employer: Your current job is a great way to start, you could start with your direct supervisor. Find someone in management whom you look up to or aspire to be, and find the opportunity to work for them. This is a great way to show off your skills, and develop a relationship with your employer.

Mentorship: There are many mentorship programs, from youth programs to community programs to industry specific programs. Find one that works for you, and push outside your comfort zone. Ask intelligent questions and accept the advice given to you.

Volunteer work: A lot of my professional advocates are made through my volunteer work. Non-profit work could be very beneficial for your career, especially if you participate as board member. You will have the opportunity to work on causes you care about while meeting professionals from a wide range of industries. This will help build your network, but also if you ever have a fall out with an employer, you still have sponsors from outside the work place to help push you forward.

How to retain your professional sponsor?

Be Real: Sometimes its not easy to admit you’ve made a mistake or need additional guidance. Your sponsor is there to support you, therefore it’s also your job to reach out when you need help or have questions. Admitting that there is a problem will give some guidance to your sponsor on where to start to help you find solutions. If you don’t communicate with your sponsor, they won’t know how and where to help you, and the relationship could easily dissolve.

Build Trust: Trust is usually built when the sponsor had the opportunity to work with you, understand your style and work ethics. This brings back to being reliable, and continue to communicate any issues that arises when working with your sponsor.

Be a Leader: Whether its in your non-profit work, or your professional career, utilize the skills and kindness that you received through experience, mentorship, and your sponsor to be a leader in your community, in your workplace, and in your business. Just as your sponsor did for you, help your peers, of those you supervise to reach their goals, inspire them to make a difference and work hard together.

Jen Giang – a digital and special projects coordinator with BCS Group in Toronto