I’ve been in the workforce for about five years now, and it took me about, oh, three days on my first job, to realize that no one is successful in a vacuum.
Whether it’s a strong network of like-minded colleagues, super-collaborative teams, or a tribe of powerful boss ladies, everyone’s success comes not just from their unshakable work ethic and stellar product, but from a support system that cheerleads, brainstorms, bolsters, and sponsors the individual behind the scenes.
You don’t need to be a super-extravert woo-type to have the network you need to be successful in your career. Here are the five people (ladies, let’s be real…these should be ladies in your corner, if you can shake it in your industry) who will help you reach the stars in your career.
Everyone has a mentor in their career, whether they know it or not.
This could be your team leader who has your back no matter what, a former colleague who’s risen in the ranks and provides a listening ear to you when you need to problem-solve, or a colleague with years of experience who’s taken you under their wing.
Your mentor will help guide you through the big changes in your role – the should I stay in this role, should I go to grad schools, should I take on this project – as well as the small.
If you play your cards right, you should have several mentors, especially if your company moves folks around and you have several leaders in a short period of time. Consider each of your leaders a mentor, and a resource to help you excel in your career.
The Big Sister
Different than the mentor, the big sister (or brother, or non-gendered sibling) is there to help guide you through the perils that they were literally just navigating a few years ago.
They have the cultural or generational knowledge that your mentor may not, and the experience for them is fresh enough that they’re able to empathize and provide real-time guidance without seeming patronizing or like a know-it-all. You probably have more of a friendly relationship with big siblings than you do with your mentor.
The big sister could be in the same role as you, or the same role with a more advanced title (senior, executive, etc), or they may be a leader or a senior team member on another team doing a similar. They could be a counterpart on another team that does the same type of work you do, or they could even be in the same industry, providing insight on what’s happening in other companies and providing alternative, out-of-the-box solutions.
Look for big sisters/brothers/siblings in your team or your division, or find them at networking events. And look for people you would be friends with outside of work! These should be folks that you vibe with and can confide in.
The Partner In Crime
The partner in crime is just what it sounds like – a colleague who’s in the ranks with you.
A teammate, a counterpart, or a coworker who you work with frequently, this is someone who sees you day-to-day and can provide you just-in-time feedback and perspective on what’s going on in your work world.
In a perfect world, you’re doing the same for them, and going to bat for them when things catch on fire – jumping in to help with a stretch project, providing key insight and feedback, or just cheerleading them while they fight the good fight.
You should have multiple partners in crime in your corner, but it’s okay to have favorites if you click really well with someone.
The Objective Party
Also known as the all-seeing eye, the sanity check, the oracle, this is someone who is working in the same or a similar industry as you, perhaps in a different city, perhaps not, who you keep in contact with to compare notes.
This could be a former colleague who’s moved on to bigger and better things, a friend from college who had the same major as you, or someone you clicked with at a conference or networking event.
This should be someone you trust pretty well who will tell you when something smells fishy. For things like how much you’re getting paid, the scope of a project, or whether someone on your team isn’t being a team player, the objective party is your best friend. This doesn’t even have to be someone at a different company than you, just someone who is removed enough to provide an objective perspective.
One word of caution: make sure these folks are trustworthy, especially if you are confiding some unflattering information about your team to them. And return the favor! Listen to their woes, provide insight, and be a good friend. The objective party can save you from a bad career move, if you utilize them correctly.
Here’s the thing. you don’t really recruit sponsors into your fold; sponsors fold you into theirs.
Sponsors are folks who’ve risen up the ranks in their career. Think directors, vice presidents, editors, people with clout – who see the good work you do and use their influence to help you advance in your career.
Whether this is by offering you a position with their team, suggesting you for a major project, or just getting your name out there with other movers and shakers, the sponsor will see the good work you’re doing and take you under their wing.
Don’t expect to get coffee every week with a sponsor, but do check in with them every quarter or so. Grab a coffee, schedule a quick 1:1, or shoot them an email with updates on what you’re working on if you don’t work at the same company. (You should still shoot for coffee, though, at the very least).
What do you think?
Who’s in your corner at work? What do you think of these suggestions? Let me know in the comments below!