The rise of cloud technology has made senior IT roles increasingly critical for organizations. These leaders are relied upon to build a powerful technology stack, enable users across the business, drive innovation, and accelerate the digital agenda. I’m acutely aware of the fact that more IT professionals are vying for senior positions in an already competitive industry. Thankfully, sponsors can help you stand out in a crowded market, especially at a time when in-person networking events are largely obsolete.
It’s easy to confuse a sponsor with a mentor -- I know I did at first. While a mentor can help you grow your proficiency or expertise, a sponsor can help you advance your career by speaking up for you opportunistically both within and outside your organization. More than just a reference, a sponsor is willing to stake their reputation on you, help you gain exposure and visibility, and ensure your name is top of mind when a senior IT role or highly visible project becomes available.
Finding the right sponsor
There’s no question that sponsors can be a beneficial resource for IT professionals looking to advance into senior level roles but finding the right sponsor -- especially in today’s remote work environment --may feel like a daunting task. To make the process a simple and successful one, consider these key practices:
- Start at your company. Check to see if your company has a formal sponsorship program that you can participate in. If a formal program doesn’t exist, don’t worry. Identify a few senior leaders at your company that you either have an existing relationship with or would want to support on a project or initiative. This can be a leader within your organization, an executive on a different team or even a company board member.
- Raise your hand. Once you’ve identified a senior leader, see if they are owning any specific projects or programs that you can support.Maybe this potential sponsor is spearheading a new project outside of your function, overseeing an employee resource group, or engaged in an external activity, like a charity or CSR initiative. Familiarize yourself with the project and your potential sponsor’s goals, then raise your hand to take on a leadership role that demonstrates your versatility and ability to step outside your comfort zone. My first sponsor was looking to create a tiger team to redefine the salesforce within our company, a project that was completely outside of my role. I volunteered, demonstrated my versatility and work ethic, and secured a relationship with a sponsor who would help me grow in the future.
- Make it official. After you’ve showcased your abilities, reach out to your potential sponsor to get their feedback. Schedule a virtual meeting where you can share your career goals, let them know you are looking for a sponsor, and ask them if they’d be willing to keep you in mind for any future projects or opportunities.
- Expand externally. For senior IT leaders looking to broaden their resume or advance into executive-level roles, working with an external sponsor should be the next priority. These sponsors will help you network beyond your current employer and might consider recommending you for external opportunities where you can volunteer your time and meet other senior level executives, like industry-related philanthropic organizations or nonprofits. Once there, take a leadership role and begin to cultivate a relationship with an executive who can serve as a reference in the future.
Making it count
In a highly competitive market, a strong sponsor relationship can mean the difference between you and another qualified candidate. Take the initiative and identify sponsors both within and outside your organization. Be willing to take on a project that’s highly visible, work on a program that’s outside your area of expertise or raise your hand for a leadership role within an external committee. Help future sponsors see your potential and don’t be afraid to formalize the relationship, even if those interactions are strictly virtual for now.
At the same time, remember to take the opportunity to serve as a sponsor for someone else. When I was an AnitaB.org board member, for instance, I spearheaded a committee where I witnessed the strong leadership skills of a team member who I then recommended for a role on the board. When I was being considered for a corporate board position, a sponsor from AnitaB.org served as my reference after witnessing my leadership skills during my time overseeing the committee.
Sponsors have played a key role in my career development, and I am excited to help others in the industry reach new heights, especially at a time when senior level IT roles are so critical to the success of tomorrow’s businesses.
Ana Pinczuk is the Chief Development Officer for Anaplan and is focused on scaling core capabilities and driving growth through solutions, partnerships, marketing, and cross-company initiatives to maintain Anaplan differentiation and enable the long-term growth trajectory. Before joining Anaplan, Ana led multi-billion-dollar businesses focused on technology and business model innovation around hybrid cloud, information management, analytics and services. She was the President and General Manager for HPE Pointnext -- HPE’s services business, Chief Product Officer at Veritas and spent 15 years in various roles at Cisco Systems.