In a recent survey by Zen Business, two-thirds of the 1,000 executives surveyed reported that they had a mentor at some point during their career. What is more interesting is that a whopping 86.8 percent reported that having a mentor helped to accelerate their career. But is help from an outside (or inside!) source necessary for career advancement? and is there any one type of advisor that is more influential than the others?
Before we dive in, let’s first look at the three main types of influencers that can exist in the business world.
Perhaps the most organic of the three options, the mentor is typically someone who is in some way more senior in either the company, the department, or even the role, but can equally be a role played by an outsider who has a wealth of knowledge in the industry and is willing and able to share their insights. Mentors thus typically take shape as bosses, co-workers, or just seasoned professionals. Of those surveyed, more than half reported that mentors were important in helping them to navigate the workplace, while one-third suggested that they helped with career planning and a similar number were crucial to helping their mentees climb the career ladder. According to the survey, mentors were a popular choice at just about every career phase, with those surveyed noting that they had been helpful across the whole spectrum of their career.
The least utilized influencer of the bunch, the sponsor is typically someone embedded in the employee’s company who goes to bat for them when it comes to securing promotions or big projects that might advance the employee’s career. In the survey, less than one quarter of executives reported using a sponsor, but of those that did, more than three-quarters said that they helped to significantly advance their careers by helping them to learn new skills or snag promotions. Unlike mentors, sponsors were more popular once employees have hit middle or senior management levels.
If you want to get ahead in business, two-thirds said it helped to have guidance, but only one-third turned to a career coach. Of those who turned to these for-hire folks, three-quarters felt that meeting with a coach helped to advance their career. Specifically, just over half said they were integral in crafting an eye-catching resume, just under half used them for interview prep, and just over a third turned to them for career pathing advice. The survey also revealed that women were more likely to work with a career coach than their male counterparts, with women more likely to choose a coach over a mentor or sponsor.
Now that we’ve talked about the types of influencers, let’s talk about some of their benefits. In the survey, those that had a sponsor, or a mentor earned, on average, $36,000 more than those who had no support. However, doubling down and having both a mentor and a sponsor resulted in an average salary boost of a whopping $52,000, on average, compared to those with either one or the other. The pay discrepancy is due, in part, to the fact that those with a mentor or a sponsor had 3.5 promotions, compared to an average of 1.7 promotions among those with no support.
So, who should you pick? Some of your choice should be dictated by the industry you are in – is it rife with experts and, perhaps more importantly, are those experts allowed to share their tips and tricks? Some selections, meanwhile, may be dictated by where you are in your career and what you are seeking from an advisor, with a coach being helpful at getting your foot in the door and a sponsor being more helpful once you are further along in your career. Further, as was touched on above, for some people, it may be beneficial to have both a mentor and a sponsor, with one looking out for your overall growth and development and one that is thinking about specific projects and opportunities for you.
Do you encourage mentors and sponsors in your company? What has proven most popular and why? Let us know in the comments!