Q: People say I should have a mentor and a sponsor at the law firm where I work. What’s the difference?
A: It’s great to have as many career guides and advisors as you can, both within and beyond your workplace. Some people talk about this as having your own board of directors.
For skill building and professional development advice, a mentor can be internal or external, and can guide you as to how to progress well, and–if knowledgeable and willing–can give you information on the firm’s culture and even its politics. He or she can be a sounding board for you as well. A sponsor, however, is someone in the firm who can actually help get you to the next level…who can advocate on your behalf and influence others positively about your career progression within the organization. If you are fortunate, your mentor and sponsor can be the same person, or you can work to find and foster a relationship with one (or more) of each.
Don’t forget to show your gratitude and to give back, when the opportunity arises, by mentoring as well as sponsoring others, too.