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Building Your Bench: 3 People You Need to Know for Career Success

Wake Forest School of Professional Studies has partnered with Career Maven Tiffany Tate to offer SPS students relevant career resources. As Founder of Career Maven, Tiffany works with clients to demystify the job search process while also partnering with organizations to reimagine the future of work.

Tiffany Tate of Career Maven
Tiffany Tate of Career Maven and SPS Career Advisor

Anyone who has ventured into the job market knows the importance of networking. Platforms like LinkedIn have capitalized on this by offering a space to forge professional connections across industries. But amidst all the talk about networking, many still wonder what an effective network should actually look like in practice.

In this blog, we’ll explore the three essential players you need on your professional team to set yourself up for success.

1.  A Mentor: Your Career Guide

Imagine you’re setting out on a challenging journey through uncharted territory. Who would you want by your side? A mentor acts as your personal guide in the world of careers. They possess valuable insights and expertise in areas where you may be lacking.

Take Susan – a junior graphic designer with dreams of becoming a creative director. Susan found her mentor, Robert, a seasoned creative director at a renowned agency. Robert’s mentorship expanded Susan’s design skills and offered invaluable insights into leadership and decision-making. 

A mentor provides an unbiased perspective and actionable recommendations that can elevate your career. They’re a compass guiding you through the professional wilderness.

2. A Sponsor: Your Career Advocate

While a mentor is your teacher, a sponsor is your advocate. These roles can sometimes overlap, but they serve different purposes. A sponsor is someone who wields their political or professional influence on your behalf within your industry or organization.

Consider Sarah – an ambitious project manager aiming for a promotion. Her sponsor, Mark, is a senior executive and recognized her potential, so he used his connections to create opportunities for her. Mark’s endorsement helped Sarah secure that coveted promotion. 

A sponsor believes in your abilities and isn’t hesitant to vouch for you. They’re the ones who open doors you might not even know existed.

3. A Connector (a.k.a. “The Plug”): Your Networking Dynamo

The third essential player on your career team is a connector, often affectionately known as “The Plug.” Connectors are well-networked individuals who have access to invaluable resources, information, and people that can help fuel your career growth.

Meet James – a software engineer working on an innovative project. He had a connector in his network, Emily, who had a knack for linking people with opportunities. When James needed expertise for his project, Emily effortlessly connected him with a seasoned developer to successfully advance his project.

Connectors are like bridges, linking you to the right people and resources when you need them most. They don’t seek anything in return; they’re simply generous with their connections.

Finding Your People

Now that you know who the three most essential career champions are for career success, it’s time to find them. Here are some tips to consider when you start looking for and building a relationship with a mentor, a sponsor, or connector:

  • Consider using digital platforms like LinkedIn to identify people who share an affinity with you (like a social organization or college), contacts you met at a networking event, or colleagues who are especially skilled in areas you would like to strengthen. 
  • Once you have clarity about what you are hoping to learn from a mentor, sponsor, or connector – make the ask! Letting people know why you were compelled to reach out to them, what you admire, and what you are hoping to learn is key to getting a “yes.” 
  • Be sure to thank them for their time and ask how they would like to stay connected in the future. Clarity about the what and how are critical to managing professional relationships both short and long term. 

Remember, it’s not necessary to find all three of these individuals to add to your personal career team at once. You may also have people in your life network that have played these roles and you simply haven’t touched base with them in awhile. Remember that you can also play these roles for others. The beauty of a career team lies in its diversity of strengths and skills; each member helps the others move forward.

Take a moment to evaluate your personal career team. Are you surrounded by mentors, sponsors, and connectors who can help you reach new heights in your career? Don’t forget your own potential to be a mentor, sponsor, or plug for others. Building a strong professional network is about reciprocity with each member contributing to the collective success of the team.

As you reflect on your career journey, remember that you’re not alone on this path. With the right team in place, you’re better equipped to navigate the twists and turns of the professional landscape ahead and reach your career goals with confidence.

Wake SPS students are able to access Tiffany’s webinar, “Build Your Bench: Career Champions You Need to Know” in the Pearl Cafe here. 

Her next webinar is “Networking Bites: How to Network for Career Success” on Tuesday, September 19th at 12:00 pm ET. Students can register here.