What They Don't Tell You . . .

Sheila Thorne

December 18, 2017

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"Oh, I didn't know; I didn't think of it that way."

I have heard many variations of these words throughout my years as a woman in technology. Whether you are new to the workplace, new to a company, or new to a job, here are reminders about your career, your actions, and your work typically not discussed.

1. If You Request a Mentor, You Earn a Sponsor

A sponsor is someone who advocates for you when you are not in the room. A sponsor is in a position of power or influence to recommend a job, a position, or an assignment. A sponsor is different from a mentor. You can ask someone to be your mentor. You don't ask for a sponsor. You cannot "get" a sponsor.

A sponsor is someone who observes you and your work ethic. They see value in what you do and how you do it. They have confidence in you. People talk about how to network and the importance of mentors, but the key differentiator to career success is sponsorship. Be the best you can be so potential sponsors will take notice.

Summary: A sponsor is not a mentor. Sponsors can recommend you for a position, job, role, or assignment. Sponsors accelerate your career progress. You earn a sponsor. Do your work. Conduct yourself in a manner that inspires confidence so a sponsor will advocate on your behalf.

2. Every Coworker is Not Your Friend

You spend a large portion of the day at work with your coworkers. Coworkers are different from friends. Therefore, be cautious of oversharing your personal life at work. For example, you remark you dread going to your sister's house with her wild kids and comment about the crappy birthday gift she gave you from the Coach outlet.

One of your coworkers squints and inquires, "Does your sister live on Parsons Place? She's my best friend. Our kids go to school together." Another, clearly offended, asks, "What's wrong with gifts from the Coach outlet store?"

The safest approach to office conversation is the old axiom, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." Save your venting for your friends in a safe environment. You want to be judged by your work and not be tainted by some offhand comment you made.

Summary: Too much personal information will damage your reputation. Decisions about your career, your work, and opportunities for you are discussed when you are not in the room. Do not give decision-makers a reason to doubt your suitability for an opportunity.

3. An Idea Without Implementation is Just an Idea

No! How did this happen? You are in a meeting, and someone presents your idea. Breathe and think. Did someone present your work or your idea? These often get confused.

Your "work" would be your paper, your product development plan, or your methodology. If someone has presented your work as their own and your concern is credit, you need to speak up immediately and claim your work. Inform management. You must complete these actions immediately, within two to three days.

Someone presenting your "idea" is amorphous. Think about the many times in conversations you say, "I had the same idea." The reality is, two people can have the same idea. As much as it hurts, as much as you are convinced people took your idea as their own, no one cares. Therefore, when you have an idea, do something. Develop a proposal, pull some data, make a plan, and do work. It doesn't matter how inventive, creative, or novel your idea is unless you do an action around it.

Summary: You want to impress in your career. In addition to doing your job, you want to be the one who is creative and innovative. An idea is only the first step. It is action that differentiates you. With your idea, is there a plan, business results, a prototype? Follow your idea with an action.

The important thing for your career advancement is the opportunity. A sponsor helps create that opportunity for you. But a sponsor is earned. The merit of your work, your reputation in the office, your creativity, and your willingness to do more are what earn your sponsorship. All of these facets of your career leading to your sponsorship means you must give a constant effort to maintain your brand with consistency, integrity, and creativity.

Sheila Thorne is a business architect at IBM. She has worked in technology for over 25 years as a mechanical engineer, business analyst, and technology specialist. She uses this experience as a keynote speaker on the good, the bad, and the ugly in technology. She blogs weekly at https://bousbous.com/ and can be reached at [email protected].

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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