Along our career journey, we are acquainted with allies who can help us develop our strengths, achieve our goals and advance along our career path. The type of relationships that we form with these allies often create pockets of opportunities that support our personal growth and drive greater positive impact.
Three allies who might figure prominently in our career journey are mentors, sponsors and coaches. The type of connection we build with each of them is different and benefits us in unique ways.
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Here is a deeper look into these three relationships:
A mentorship is frequently described as a relationship between two individuals where one party has more experience, knowledge and/ or connections in a specific area, industry or topic. He or she provides guidance, advice, and support to a less experienced person. The more senior person (with more experience, greater knowledge or wider connections) is the mentor, while the more junior individual is called the mentee. Do note that the mentor need not always be older. The relationship is often based on creating the connection in a specific area of interest, line of business, set of skills or a particular career stage.
How do I find a mentor?
Your mentor may be a colleague, but he or she can also be working in your field, outside of your company. Within your own firm, you can reach out to HR to ask if there are formal mentorship programmes within the organisation. Externally, you can turn to networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook groups, friends or even family. Alumni networks, as well as formal professional associations are also good places to start your search for a mentor. You can reach out to someone whom you feel would be able to provide you with valuable career advice.
To get started, reach out to a potential mentor, clearly stating in your message why you admire them and what you hope to get out of the mentorship relationship. It also helps to give them an estimation of how much time you hope they can devote to building the connection.
How do I know if it is a successful mentorship?
A successful mentorship often features a mentor who provides non-judgemental advice for questions which the mentee may have. The connection should provide a safe space for both parties to talk openly about one-off issues or about specific areas of focus. Mentorship does not usually include introduction to the mentor’s and mentee’s network. Should the connection feel uncomfortable, it is perfectly acceptable to end the mentorship and seek someone new.
As a mentee, have a clear objective on what you hope to gain from the mentorship experience. Use specific and measurable goals to help you prepare for the sessions. Most importantly, you should have a willingness to learn and an open attitude to grow through the experience.
How can I support them back?
You can ask your mentor if there is any support or help they require from you. A LinkedIn referral or a feedback on completed projects are some examples of how you can return their favour. Always ask them how you can add value to them, in return for their mentorship.
A sponsorship is often touted as a major factor in accelerating your career path. The key difference between a sponsor and a mentor is the dimension of influence or advocacy. A sponsor is someone who will advocate for you and is likely to be someone more senior in your firm. Their power of influence allows them to open doors for you via introduction to key connections, recommending you for job openings and promotions or even vouching for your abilities to higher management. A sponsor may pull you up the career ladder by nominating you for projects, roles, task forces or opportunities that benefit your career.
How do I find a sponsor?
Unlike mentorships, sponsorships are usually not formalised relationships or part of a company-wide structured programme. A sponsor should be someone with a leadership position in your firm, and with the authority to make certain strategic decisions that have an impact on your career. Over time, you will need to build the relationship with your sponsor, by offering help with their initiatives.
Seek out your sponsor and build trust by having continued interactions with your sponsor. Show that you are a strong team member within the organisation and constantly provide value to the business. It will also help for you to share your own career aspirations with your sponsor, so they can give you advice on how to advance in your career journey.
How do I know it is a successful sponsorship?
As most sponsorships build organically, it can be quite challenging to determine if the sponsorship relationship is a positive one. One clear sign is when your sponsor starts to introduce you to key contacts and decision makers in the firm, that might not be related to your actual job function. You might also hear that your sponsor advocates for you to be on specific projects. Some sponsors may be more direct – specifically informing you of roles within the firm, that they think you are a good fit and that you may want to progress towards.
How can I support them back?
When a sponsor vouches for you, he or she is putting their own reputation on the line. One of the greatest ways to support them back is to perform well on the initiative, project or new role that you were recommended for. Another form of support you can provide to your sponsor is to vouch for them as much as they vouch for you. If you know of projects or hear of developments in your firm that might be beneficial to them, you can also share your information with them.
A career coach offers career advice to help you through a career challenge. Usually, the coach partners you to analyse the career problem you are facing, establish career goals and work with you to come up with strategies to achieve those goals. Career coaching can be done either one-on-one (online or in person) or in a group setting where there are similar career challenges amongst the coaches. Career coaches may specialise by your career needs. If you are career transitioning or returning to work are career hiatus, you can work with a coach who can specifically craft out strategies to help you overcome possible challenges.
Some career coaches may be focused on specific industries or job functions. Usually these coaches would be experienced working professionals, who bring with them sought-after experience or specific skills. A career coach from the oil and gas sector, may be able to share pertinent information about employers’ preferences, cultural innuendoes and specific skill requirements which that sector requires.
Typically career coaches are also trained to provide guidance in resume writing, interviewing skills, networking skills, personal branding and other job-seeking tools.
How do I find a career coach?
There are many career coaches available in Singapore on various platforms. Young NTUC’s Youth Career Network was established in 2016 as a support network consisting of volunteer career coaches and career guides. The Youth Career Network delivers the Career Discovery and Mentorship Programme, which provides support and guidance for planning your career. Starting this year, NTUC members may also be paired to a mentor of their choice for up to 4 months, if they seek out the services of the Career Network.
How do I know it is a successful coach?
A good career coach will be able to partner you in various ways. However, coaching can be dependent on personality and communication styles. As such it is good for you to know what you want for the career coach to help you with. A career coach cannot give you a job, but he or she can help you embark on your self-discovery of understanding what job role suits you best, based on your personality, interests, skills, values and motivations. When it comes to specific job search tools, a good career coach can navigate your thought process to create resumes or personal branding portfolios that match you with job roles that suits you best.
How can I support them back?
Be honest in your feedback with your career coach. Start your connection with them by having an indication of what you hope to get out of the coaching sessions. Set your own goals before hand and share them with your career coach, so they will know how to partner you. Unlike a sponsor or a mentor, a career coach is likely to be more tactical in their approach to support your career journey. By giving them your honest feedback of what you feel is working or not, you are allowing your career coach to help you develop you to your full potential.
In summary, if you require generic advice or someone to share your career goals with, make time for a mentor. If you are planning to climb the corporate ladder and need someone to pull you up, seek out a sponsor. If you need specific areas of improvement and guidance in order to move into or out of a job role, consult a career coach. All three allies will be essential to smoothen your career path.
About Young NTUC Youth Career Network
Young NTUC Youth Career Network is a support network consisting of volunteer career coaches and career guides, who come together with a common desire to pay it forward. The Youth Career Network delivers the Career Discovery and Mentorship Programme, targeted at first job seekers and young workers, to provide them with the support and guidance needed to better navigate and plan their career.
Looking for a mentor: Young NTUC organises a few sessions of LIT (Learning is Triggered) Mentorship Programme annually to bring mentees together with their preferred mentors. Stay tuned for more details on the next LIT Mentorship Programme that will be held in the second half of the year.
For the latest updates, subscribe to Young NTUC e-newsletter. If you have any career-related questions that you would like to check in with our Career Guides and Coaches, submit your questions via LIT Ask Us Anything platform.
Volunteer as a career guide: If you are an industry professional or a practicing career coach who is keen to be a part of this community, please email to email@example.com to indicate your interest.
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