Have doubts about what it means to have a sponsor?
Wondering how to go about getting the right sponsor?

If you’re not getting the results you need from your sponsor, you really need to hear this.

In this episode of The Career Rx we’ll discuss

  • Common mistakes and misconceptions about how to get a sponsor
  • What an effective sponsor – sponsee relationship looks like
  • How to identify potential sponsors, and what to do next

Today’s episode answers many sponsorship related questions and corrects a few misconceptions. Listen to better understand the difference between a mentor and a sponsor, what mistakes you might be making when attempting to select a sponsor, and how this type of relationship can boost your career.

Special announcement: My course, Industry Insider, is now accredited for up to 12 CME credits. Learn how to land an exciting and impactful role as a physician in the world of pharma, biotech, or medical devices, AND how to do that even if you think you’re not qualified, don’t have any connections, or concerned about a pay cut… I’ve got you covered!

In this Episode:

[1:40] Not sure what a sponsor is, or how they differ from a mentor? Check out Episode 37
[2:00] How to develop a sponsor relationship
[9:30] What’s actually in it for you, and what’s in it for them?
[14:50] The wand chooses the wizard
[17:25] Maybe you don’t really have a sponsor after all
[21:00] The difference between ‘favoritism’ vs sponsorship

Links and Resources:

Industry Insider – 12 CME hours – learn exactly how to land a rewarding nonclinical career without a new degree, connections on the inside, prior experience, or a pay cut
Episode 37: Beyond Mentors and Sponsors: 7 Allies You Need in Your Network
Episode 74: 8 Elements of an Effective Networking Strategy



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TRANSCRIPT: Episode 96 – How to Choose The Right Sponsor for Your Career

Hey there, I’m Marjorie Stiegler and you’re listening to The Career Rx podcast, where we tackle the important things they don’t teach you in medical school. Like how to treat your career, like the business, it really is, with strategies to accelerate the kind of success that you want, because you deserve a career you love, and a career that loves you back. Are you ready? Let’s get into it.

Hey there, welcome back, it’s another episode of The Career Rx. And today, we’re going to be talking about getting the right sponsor and how to choose a sponsor.

So I think that most people today are well aware of what a sponsor is. And perhaps the difference between a mentor and a sponsor and a coach. If this is new to you, I welcome you to please go check out episode 37 of this podcast, where we talk about beyond mentors and sponsors. And I give you seven different types of people that I think you ought to have in your professional network. So if this is new terminology to you, please go check that out. I’m not going to dwell on it here.

What I’d like to do today actually is dig into a handful of questions that came up in an Ask Me Anything type of discussion, around sponsorship. And I, you know, there’s sort of two takeaways. For me from this event.

The first one was that a lot of people really don’t know what to do with their sponsor. And the second one is that there was sort of a persistent misunderstanding about the relationship of the sponsor. And I say that because the same kind of questions came in, like over and over and over again, that had not been submitted at the same time, you know, but were submitted after the prior one had already been answered. And the questions just struck me as sounding very, very much the same.

So I’m going to read some of these questions that came in, and then I’m going to give you my two cents.

Okay. The first question that came in is what advice do you have on getting a sponsor in an area where you don’t have any contacts, but you want to move into that area? So we’ve talked about this quite a bit, actually, on the career prescription. I mean, this is an area in which we really get very strategic about how to network and how to develop those relationships that may become a sponsor relationship.

So before we get into the rest of today’s episode, let me quickly remind you that industry insider is my eight week course, which now is actually available on a binge version. So if you want to get all eight hours of content immediately, you can do that as well. It is all about end and getting you from knowing nothing about how to get into the pharma or medical device industry, to landing that job evaluating your offers, and really sealing the deal and everything in between, from you know, how to network, how to do that resume, how to find the jobs, how to interview successfully, et cetera, and is now accredited for 12 hours of CME.

So that’s, that’s huge. And hopefully, you’ll come check it out on my website, I’ll leave the course, info right in the show notes.

So thinking back to the question, what advice do you have on getting a sponsor in an area where you don’t have any contacts, but you want to move into that area? The important thing to know about this is that sponsorship is a mature relationship, it’s something that comes after an initial introduction.

So if you don’t have any contacts, then you’re not going to have a sponsor, I mean, the first thing to do is to begin networking there, and developing some relationships that might turn into mentor type relationships, or just, you know, relationships that are ongoing, and then that person may become a sponsor for you.

But there really is no, I mean, there may be organizations that do this and and that, that I’m specifically aware of, but there’s, there’s really no way to start from scratch and say, I want a sponsor on the inside of this new type of work that I want to do. And I don’t know, I don’t know them at all today.

The reason for that, and we’ll come back to this more than once is the sponsor, unlike a mentor, or coach, or an advisor, a sponsor has a person who spends their professional capital on you, right, they stick their neck out for you, they recommend you and open doors for you and literally suggest you or appoint you, or you know, they take specific action to try to get you opportunities, which sometimes are just, you know, opportunities to do projects or to meet people and sometimes their actual job opportunities.

But that’s what a sponsor does. And if a sponsor does not know you, they’re not going to do this for you because they’re taking a huge risk and it may reflect poorly on them.

Also, a particular senior leader is only going to sponsor a small number of people at a time for that same reason, because in order to maintain that credibility of you know, here is really a shining star, truly outstanding person. And there are only so many of those to go around.

This is also the reason why when people that I don’t know, just send me their resume and say, Hey, can you help tell me if there’s any opportunities. I mean, I really can’t do very much with that to be honest, because if I don’t know the person, you know, I am not going to review the resume, really, I mean, that’s something for which I might offer coaching.

And I’m not going to stick my neck out to say, I would really recommend this person that I don’t know at all. And this is really true. It’s not just me, this is true of all senior leaders, so people aren’t going to do that. So the short answer to this question is that in order to get a sponsor, in an area where you don’t have any contacts, he needs to start to get some contacts. And that’s honestly quite easy.

It’s really not as hard and daunting as people make it sound we do, we do talk about it in a really step by step way, in Industry Insider. It’s not that hard, but you have to start making contacts. And the contact is not going to be a sponsor right away. And you’re going to need to meet a large number of people before one of those turns into a sponsorship relationship.

Okay, here is the second question. Does a sponsor have to have visibility to your work? And how can they advocate for you, if they don’t know what you do on a daily basis. Same kind of theme here, right, they really they cannot advocate for you very well, if they don’t know your work, they they need to know your work.

Now, they may not know every single thing that you do. But they do need to know your work, they need to know a bit about what you excel at, they need to have some specific examples that they can share with others when they are recommending you or when they are introducing you or when they’re teeing you up for an opportunity, they are going to need to know your work.

And so really a critical component of the sponsor relationship, again, is that maturation of the relationship. It’s not because they’ve met you once, and they thought you were they were, you know, impressed by you. It’s not because you had a great conversation, this is going to need to be somebody that either you work with on a regular basis, who is senior to you who you know, so could be your boss, your boss’s boss, those people can function as sponsors, it could be somebody that’s not directly senior to you, but a senior in the organization, and has visibility to your work, because you are doing work that intersects with their world, or because you’ve cultivated a relationship with them. And you’ve had the opportunity to show and tell about your work.

But yes, the answer to his question is, you know, the sponsor absolutely needs to have visibility to your work. And they really cannot advocate, if they don’t know your strengths, they don’t know what you do. And not only will they be less effective, like they cannot advocate. But back to my earlier point, they probably will not advocate, because again, they’re spending their own professional capital, they’re really putting their own reputation on the line.

This is different from when a mentor or a coach gives you advice that may or may not work out that you can take and you know, sort of make it your own, take the parts that you want and do something, this is when somebody else recommends you to a third party, right not only just gives you an opportunity, it’s their own risk, if they give you an opportunity to do work with them.

But when they’re going to recommend you to a third party, I mean, they are going to need to have visibility to your work and to feel really confident that frankly, you’re going to be successful, which makes them look good. And so this sounds like maybe there’s not any altruism in it.

But there is, I mean, senior leaders are very, very busy. So when they do take the time to have these relationships that turned into sponsorship relationships, again, you know, that is them giving back, but they’re only going to do it for a small number of people, certainly a small number of people at a time.

And they’re not going to be able to put forth everybody for every opportunity. So they need to be selective about that. And they really do need to know you and know where you shine and know where you’re going to do a good job, so that they can be helpful to you, but also so that it reflects well on them, right? Because otherwise it’s sort of damaging to their relationship or their stature and nobody wants to do that.

Here’s another question. I’m not sure what a good output of a sponsorship relationship looks like. I have a sponsor now. But I don’t think I’m getting enough out of it. That’s sort of a comment and a question. I would say to this person, you really don’t have a sponsor. If you’re not sure you’re getting anything out of it. And you don’t know what that relationship looks like. I’m not sure that you actually have a sponsor.

Now, this could be nobody’s fault. I’m not about to point any fingers here. But this could be because either you have not been effective enough in letting the sponsor know how they can help you. This is on you right? This is on you always to make sure that the sponsor knows what you’re interested in and what you want to do and how they can help you.

So you’ve got to come up with that and tell them, you know, here are the things that you’re most interested in, that’s really, really important. So it could be that that’s what’s going on. Or it could be that you don’t actually have a sponsor.

And maybe what you have is, you know, an arbitrarily assigned mentor that you meet with from some, you know, period of time, but that they are not really all that personally invested in you. And that could be because maybe your interests don’t overlap, or you haven’t expressed it enough.

Or it could be that they are, frankly, just, they are too busy. And they’re not thinking about you very much. I mean, there could be any number of reasons.

And some of this could be on you to communicate better, what your strengths are to share the work that you’re doing, to let them know how they can help you. And then maybe they would spring into action and do so and they just didn’t know what to do to help you, they’re not going to do that.

Or it could be that they aren’t actually sponsoring you at all, and that, that you either have a misunderstanding about what that term means or they do. That’s possible, you know, or that you’re just kind of getting confused that you have someone who’s been assigned to you in the organization as a mentor, but that you’re not sure you’re getting enough out of it.

I mean the sponsor relationship is about opportunities and introductions and opening doors. That’s what a good output looks like.

It’s sort of a leapfrogging right, it’s, they’re putting you ahead into a place that you yourself would have a much more challenging time getting, that’s the good output. So if you are not getting that, then either you’re not helping your sponsor know what it is that you need, or your sponsor is not really sponsoring you, right, they aren’t making the effort.

Or the other possibility is that they’re just literally not the right person. Because, you know, in order for a sponsor to be effective, they need to have influence, right, they need to be senior enough to have influence in order to get you those sort of leapfrog opportunities and introductions.

And so if they are not positioned to help you in the way that you want, then while they might be a very willing sponsor, and you might be a really vocal sponsee, right, helping them to know, if they’re not in a position to actually do it. And then they’re just not the right, they’re not the right sponsor for you.

So thinking about the title of this episode, and getting the right sponsor, that’s something to really think about. And be sure that as you’re cultivating your relationships, the person or persons that you’re seeking out to sponsor you have interest in you, they have visibility to what you’re doing, or you can at least make it so that they do.

And they have the authority and the sort of professional cachet, and power to do things that will bring those opportunities to you.

Okay, another question is, what’s the difference between an advocate and a sponsor, these are somewhat similar. I mean, they’re overlapping, certainly in that your sponsor does advocate for you.

The difference is, as you know, from a follow on, of what we were just discussing, the difference is that the sponsor is in a position of power or authority or influence to really advance your career and your opportunities. So somebody can be an advocate for you. Meaning that they’re willing to speak loud and proud about how amazing you are.

But if they’re not actually in a position of power, or authority or influence, then, you know, they’re sort of like, they would be a sponsor, but they aren’t actually a sponsor, because they can’t, they can’t do or they cannot affect the change that you want. That’s the intended output of that relationship.

And they may still be an important person to have in your corner, because their position may change over time, and then they may have that authority, or they because they’re such a, you know, a strong advocate for you, they, they may be able to connect you with somebody who would eventually then become your sponsor. So, it’s great to have advocates, you absolutely want those people. But that would be sort of the difference there.

Here’s another question that I’m going to answer with sort of indirectly, the question is about how often to meet with your sponsor, and what a good meeting or check in looks like. I’m about to ask someone to be my sponsor, but I’m not sure how to progress the relationship during those check ins. So I’m wondering, you know, what’s the right cadence? That’s the question.

I’m not going to answer the question about the cadence. I think that’s something for you and your sponsor to determine on your bit, you know, between the two of you, but the thing that jumped out to me about this question is asking someone to be my sponsor. So you don’t really ask somebody to be your sponsor. You don’t get to choose your sponsor. If this is someone that you don’t already know. You don’t just call somebody up and say, Hey, I really would love for you to be my sponsor.

Basically, your sponsor chooses you, right, rather than you choosing a sponsor. You can pursue these relationships and and try to develop them and you might be able to get somebody you know, to agree to meet with you a handful of times, even if you call it, you know, a sponsoring relationship or a mentoring relationship, and you can call it a sponsoring relationship.

But the fact of the matter is that if they just met you, they’re just there, they aren’t yet your sponsor for the reasons we’ve talked about already, that they might be willing to talk to you. But they’re not necessarily at that point, willing to talk about you to others and to promote you to others if they don’t know you yet.

So I would be very cautious just about how you think about this. And that you can you can ask someone for advice, you can ask them to meet with you, you can tell them you’re looking for a mentor, you could even say that you’re looking for a sponsor, but just at its core, even if somebody agrees, yeah, I’m happy to be your sponsor.

The reality is that until they know you well, and they do think that you’re a shining star, and they know the areas in which you’re going to be amazing. And they know what you want, and they know how to plug you in and connect you. They’re just not your sponsor yet.

So the sponsor really chooses you. And among all the people that they know who are more junior, who are eager for opportunities, and who might be suitable for any particular opportunity that they’re aware of, or that they have influence over.

Because they can only put forth one person really at a time, for that kind of thing with the amount of gravitas that they have. They choose you. So even if they’ve agreed to be your sponsor, and they’re meeting with you on a monthly or quarterly basis, if they’re not speaking up about you, when you’re not there, they aren’t actually sponsoring you.

So even if they you have approached them, and they’ve agreed, and that sounds like you’ve chosen the sponsor, the sponsor chooses you when it comes down to it. So when we think about how to get the right sponsor, it’s about that relationship building. It’s about the relationship building with that intended outcome, understanding who you need to try to develop relationships with, who are in positions of authority and influence.

And also, who will be interested in you, and in whom you can show your strengths. And they’ll have visibility to your work, or you can give them sufficient visibility to your work, right, this is who’s that that’s who the right sponsor is. And that individual will be different for everybody. You may want to have more than one sponsor, if you can.

But this is just really key, I mean, these questions kind of over and over again, or just slightly missing the point, that the sponsor is someone who decides to act on your behalf, spending their own professional capital.

So it’s definitely not going to be someone you’re arbitrarily assigned to, it’s not really going to be somebody that you can just call up and ask even if they say, yes, just understand there that that’s, you’re not there yet, right?

There’s more that you need to do. And that it’s really important for you to be able to articulate what it is that you want, and then for them to be in a position to help you get there.

I love this next question. How do you get over the self limiting beliefs that could stop you from feeling empowered to seek a sponsor? There’s so much wrapped up in there. I mean, the first thing I would emphasize again, is that, you know, yes, you can seek a sponsor, right, and you should, right, you should be mindful, thoughtful about your networking, and about how you begin to try to develop sponsorship relationships.

Again, remembering, though that you don’t just call or email somebody and ask them to be your sponsor, like, seeking a sponsor, that that’s not what that means. It’s more of a long term, developing and mature relationship.

But getting over those self limiting beliefs to stop you from seeking a sponsor. If you know, when I interpret this question, I think it means that this person is afraid really to reach out for the purpose of networking, which is where all of this starts, you know, afraid to reach out to someone who is more senior, who is more influential, who might be in a position to help them, they just think why would that person ever want to hear from me.

For this, I recommend visiting Episode 74, about how to network the right way. We talk about this there in terms of how you can reach out to people who feel sort of unattainable. They’re quite senior, and a lot of the mistakes that people make, frankly, when they do so, I don’t know that this helps getting over the self limiting beliefs. But it is important to understand the right way or the most likely way to be successful in connecting with senior folks. And so I do recommend that episode. If this is something that’s on your mind.

At a certain point, you have to just squash those self limiting beliefs and take action. It’s not going to come for you, it’s not going to fall out of the sky and into your lap. So really, really important. But that also that question reminded me thinking about, you know, seeking a sponsor just to really be sure that everybody understands that you don’t email or call somebody up and say, Hey, I’d like you to be my sponsor.

Even if the person says yes, they’re not your sponsor yet. Just to reiterate, I guess where I’m coming from on this episode, a question that came in after all of that was, how do I get a sponsor? And then someone else said, can you share some examples of successful sponsoring? So, again, these questions have been answered already, but it just reminded me, it’s like some people need to hear this, perhaps with some repetition, right?

That a sponsor is somebody that needs to have visibility to your work, you’re going to perhaps need to do the networking and the relationship building, but just don’t expect it to start right away.

And if you don’t know how to do any of the networking, I mean, there are episodes in this podcast, and certainly, again, Industry Insider will help you even if you have no interest in the pharma industry, all the principles are the same. And the successful sponsoring, is that leapfrogging into opportunities that you that you wanted to have.

So this could be a job, or it could be just a position, want to think about, for example, you know, it’s on you, as I’ve said before you as the sort of sponsor, to know what you want in order to be able to ask your sponsor for it. And in some cases, once you have a good, deep established relationship, and they are definitely your sponsor, and they are willing to go out on a limb for you. In some cases, you have something very specific in mind that, you know, there’s a position that’s open, and you’d like to be considered for it.

And so you ask, but in other cases, if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, you could still know in general, so for example, you might say, I really want to build for my resume, leading a team of direct reports, where you might say, I’d like to have some experience doing administrative work, or I’d like to do something in the medical school, right, the undergraduate portion of the medical school, or I’d like to do something that’s hospital wide.

Or for many of my listeners who are trying to career pivot, it would be you know, I’d like to do something in a different industry, or develop the skills that are going to position me to get into industry.

So you’ve got to be able to tell them how they can help you. And again, they have to be in a position to do so. I’m gonna rattle off just a handful more of questions that came in even after these conversations.

One again, how do you pick the right sponsor for yourself? I can’t answer that any more thoroughly than I already have.

And how do I get to know who is in the sponsorship space at my organization? I found this to be a really interesting question. Because again, it’s not like a mentor, where you have a formal mentor, you have someone who’s willing to be a sponsor, this is a very, very personal relationship, that you’ve got to develop with somebody, you’re not going to find like, Hey, here’s a roster of sponsors, let me let me get one.

Honestly, even if that exists, to my point earlier, they have to be somebody that’s actually well positioned to advance your specific goals, and not just be interested in willing to give you advice, they’ve got to be in that position of influence or authority to help you, specifically, in the direction that you want to go.

And also, they have to be interested enough in you to want to do that. So those two questions are just sort of the repeats of what we’ve already discussed. But I just want to raise them again, because this is why I think this episode is so important.

And then the last one, which I think is just worth mentioning, I thought was interesting. How do you separate sponsorship from the perception of favoritism? So this to me is really, really insightful and interesting question. In a way, there’s one in the same, a person does favor you, if they get to know you in such a way that they become really impressed by you.

They think that you’re going to be super effective, you’re a shining star, you’re enthusiastic, you’re likely to succeed, you’re going to make them look great. They are going to favor you. They’re going to favor you for recommendations and opportunities and all of that.

Now, I think the key in terms of like the perception of favoritism is that they would be able to articulate and to demonstrate exactly why it is that you’re such a great choice. So it’s not arbitrary, like oh, I just like this person, there will be specifics about your work.

And again, that’s why it’s really important for them to have that line of visibility to it. It’s not favoritism, if they know your work, and they know that you’re likely to be extremely successful at something specific over which they have authority and influence and they’re gonna put your name forward. That’s not favoritism. That’s sponsorship.

All right, if you had any doubts prior to listening to this episode about what it means to have a sponsor, or how to go about getting the right sponsor, I hope this episode has really helped you to sort of separate out some of the misperceptions, you know that there’s some sort of arbitrary relationship that can just sort of be assigned to you rather than the long term nurturing that you need to do.

And that it does need to be someone who has visibility to your work and that it does need to be someone who is in a position to help you advance in the way that you want to advance. That’s how you get the right sponsor by demonstrating also that you are going to reflect really well on them so that they’re willing to take a risk.

I hope that’s helped. It’s a great conversation and it’s a really important part of career advancement. So that’s it for today. Bye for now.

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