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July 10, 2013When I think about sponsorship in the workplace, I picture a high-potential employee riding the willing back of a senior leader straight to Executive Wonderland.  After all, Catalyst research shows that sponsorship matters. And many of today’s top companies and firms are trying to create environments that foster sponsorship opportunities for all employees (success stories are conveniently available on Catalyst’s website). So cheers to all those middle-manager protégés with the support systems in place to skyrocket to the top—but where does sponsorship come into play for a freshly minted college graduate like me?

Most of us have heard the horror stories about recent college graduates and today’s job market. Given our massive student loan debts, a weakened economy that cannot provide every hopeful young graduate with a decent job, and the false premise that a liberal arts degree = an automatic amazing job (pagan art and sock puppetry majors included), panic is bound to strike. A recent Pew study found that only  30 percent of today’s 18- to 34-year-olds—and a mere 11 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds—consider their current job to be the start of a career. But as a Gen-Yer in the workforce, I think it’s possible to be strategic and combat the whirlwind of doubt that follows those entering the working world today. One such strategy is: Sponsorship! The timeless career builder!  

According to the “laws of sponsorship,” my career started around the age of 13. I was the neighborhood babysitter, and not too shabby at it. Unbeknownst to me, by the time I graduated from high school, I had established a number of useful business contacts. Even if you’ve never had a “real” job before, when you really sit down and think about it, you’ll probably realize that you already know a lot of employed people (sounds silly, I know—but it’s not, because these people can help you).

The summer before my senior year of college, I received a phone call from a woman I used to babysit for. She described an internship opportunity at Catalyst, where she worked, and said she thought I was a good fit. I was ecstatic. With her recommendation—dare I say, her “sponsorship”?—I got the internship and, six months later, landed a full-time position. I spent the next year and a half networking internally with the right people, making my skill set known, and meeting with my mentor/sponsor to discuss my capabilities. I ended up with a promotion and a one-way ticket to my company’s headquarters.

Now I advise all my peers to write down every person they know in the professional world and call them. Offer them compelling reasons to take you under their wings and advocate for your employment (don’t worry about advancement until you have a job to advance in). There is no cookie-cutter formula for a successful career; good business skills are good business skills at any age and any level. Finding someone senior to you who can speak up on your behalf is the first big step towards getting your foot in the door.

Even as the most junior person in a temporary job, you’re likely to meet someone who can help you—if not now, then someday. It only takes one person to notice your talents and help jump-start your career. So think about who you know, and start asking for their help!