Mentor vs. Sponsor: Key Differences for Choosing Between Them

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published August 11, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Whether you're pursuing professional goals or personal goals, you might need help to develop certain skills or obtain financial support. You can ask professional mentors or professional sponsors for this type of guidance, support and advocacy. Understanding the differences between these two roles can help you determine whose help you need and how you might reach your goals. In this article, we explain what a mentor is, what a sponsor is, the differences between the two and when to choose a mentor or a sponsor.

What is a mentor?

A mentor is a person you can ask for advice when you encounter challenges in your personal or professional life. A mentor typically has significant experience in the area you need help with and can offer unique insight to help you navigate those challenges. Mentors can be people like coworkers, family members, close friends or supervisors at your job.

Read more: What Is a Mentor?

What is a sponsor?

A sponsor is a person who advocates for an employee, idea or organization. Sponsors might provide financial support, offer career support or use their industry influence to provide opportunities for people and organizations. Sponsors typically have a personal goal when they give support to an organization or person. For example, a doctor who sponsors a medical student might want that student to work for them once they graduate.

Read more: What Is a Project Sponsor?

Mentor vs. sponsor

While mentors and sponsors share many similarities, the two also differ in the following ways:

Purpose

A mentor and a sponsor both have a specific purpose. A mentor's purpose is to guide their friend, family member or colleague through challenges and provide helpful advice using their experience or technical skills. For example, a mentor in a technology company might provide advice to a new programmer on what coding languages to learn in order to move to larger projects within the business. The mentor might monitor the programmer's progress, help them learn new programming languages and provide both emotional and professional support during the process.

A sponsor's purpose is to leverage their influence, provide financial support and provide professional aid to a person or organization. For example, if a CEO recognizes that one of their new hires has significant talent in leadership, they might sponsor that employee to help them develop their skills and obtain a higher leadership position within the organization. The CEO might also influence other leaders to help with the sponsorship, pay for training courses or education and work with the employee personally to develop their leadership skills.

Related: 5 Steps To Find a Mentor

Approach

Sponsors and mentors use different approaches to support the people with whom they work. A mentor might approach an employee, friend, family member or coworker in a more casual way with friendly conversation and gentle advice. Meanwhile, a sponsor might approach people with a more professional tone to offer advice, financial resources and professional influence.

For example, if an employee wants to learn how to become a professional translator, they might develop a relationship with a mentor during their studies. This mentor can offer helpful insight into learning the language and developing technical skills for the translation industry. As the pupil grows their skills, a sponsor might later recognize the employee's talents and offer to sponsor them in order to add talent to the organization.

Responsibilities

Another key difference between a mentor and a sponsor is the level of responsibility they have to their pupil and what tasks they complete for them. Here are some responsibilities for each role:

Mentor

Mentors have many responsibilities, including:

  • Advising pupils: Mentors provide advice from personal or professional experience to help pupils through challenges or to help them develop new skills.

  • Providing emotional support: Mentors can provide emotional support to pupils during challenges and offer empathy.

  • Providing motivation: Mentors also provide motivation for their pupils encountering career challenges. This includes advice on how to navigate those challenges and reach goals.

  • Giving honest feedback: Mentors provide honest feedback for their pupils to encourage them to meet challenges and learn how to improve their skills for better personal and professional development.

  • Identifying strengths: A mentor helps identify their pupil's strengths to focus efforts on improving those skills and using them to achieve goals.

Sponsors

Sponsors have different responsibilities from a mentor, including:

  • Providing financial support: Often, a sponsor provides financial support to a person or organization or financial support for an idea.

  • Using personal influence: Sponsors often use their personal influence in society or within their organization to help pupils form relationships and find a career path.

  • Providing advocacy: Sponsors advocate for their pupils to coworkers, leaders in the industry and others, highlighting their pupils' skills and inspiring others to support them.

  • Focusing on professional development: Sponsors mostly focus on professional development for some financial or professional gain from supporting the person or project.

  • Identifying career options: Sponsors may use their influence to identify potential career options for pupils based on their skill sets.

Related: 14 Incredible Benefits of Being a Sponsor

When to seek a mentor vs. sponsor

Choosing between a mentor and a sponsor depends on your personal and professional goals and how you hope to achieve them. If you need guidance and advice from an experienced professional, seeking a mentor might be a better option. However, if you have a particular talent or idea or need funding for your organization, a sponsor might be the better option.

Tips for finding a mentor or sponsor

Finding a mentor or a sponsor requires an understanding of your professional and personal goals. Here are some helpful tips for finding a mentor or a sponsor:

  • Identify your goals. Identify both your professional and personal goals, as well as how and when you hope to achieve them. You may need either a sponsor or a mentor depending on your time frame and specific goals.

  • Determine the level of help you need. Determine if you need advice and emotional support or if you need financial support and advocacy within your industry. You can also determine if you need help now or in the future to decide if a mentor or sponsor is more suitable for you.

  • Build a support system. Building a support system professionally and personally can help you navigate challenges and find support. A mentor or sponsor may serve as a key part of your support system.

  • Find industry professionals. Skilled professionals may offer you advice, guidance and advocacy. Try to find professionals within your industry or area of interest who have significant skills or hold positions similar to your career goals.

  • Focus on building relationships. Focus on building close relationships with people you admire or trust in your workplace or industry. Building personal relationships can help you find mentors or sponsors who believe in your abilities.

  • Find people outside of your industry. People outside of your industry can be mentors or sponsors as well, and they may bring a unique perspective to your career path or personal challenges. For example, a physician might have helpful advice for law students about having discipline in their studies.

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