November 1st, 2022

This blog post is adapted from our Guide to Navigating a Career Transition. If you’re a senior woman leader who’s re-entering the workforce, making a big career transition, or considering your strategy for change, download the full guide here.

Your network – ranging from those you know well to those you know casually – is the most powerful tool in your career transition plan. The people you know well will go to bat for you; those you know loosely will open undiscovered doors that can lead to enormous opportunities.

As you prepare for your transition, and especially as you gain clarity in your next moves, intentionally building and working with your network can catalyze your success.

There are a variety of ways you can gain exposure:

  • Mentors. Develop your existing mentor relationships and consider new mentors based on your transition goals. Is there an industry you wish to learn more about? A company? Geography? Who can you connect with to gain insights, or who in your circle can make a connection for you?
  • Sponsors. Who has openly helped you to make changes or rise in the past – and who might be willing to do so now? Reach out to those who know you and trust you – who are willing to vouch for you. Sponsors can be career transformers – use them to your advantage.
  • Weak ties. Weak ties – or looser connections – are critical to revealing new opportunities. New connections. Consider any acquaintance-level peer, friend of a friend, new LinkedIn connection, etc. a weak tie. The magic in weak ties is the newness – they often have answers and can lend support you simply cannot find elsewhere.

When gaining exposure, be sure to reciprocate in return. Take the phone call. Share your own advice. Make the connection for someone else. Networking, at its core, is about building relationships – and in sincere relationships, you give and take.

Tips to find a mentor to reach your next goal

Athena Coach Tissa Richards led a Salon for members on how to use intentional networking strategies to find a mentor.

She said finding mentors is as simple as recognizing the people in your day-to-day life who inspire you on your own path. They may have found a board seat quickly, transitioned into the C-suite, built their investment portfolio, entered a new industry, or planned their retirement with intention. The first step is to make the ask.

“It can be really uncomfortable to ask for help for anything, even your board journey. I think it’s because we want to project to people, ‘Hey, we have it under control. We’re great. We’re confident. We don’t need help in other areas,’” Tissa said. “You can say something like ‘Hey, I’m really inspired by this thing you did. Would you be willing to share how you achieved that – some tips, some insights? Are there people who helped you on that journey? The more specific you are, the easier it is for someone to understand and be helpful.”

Members can watch the full recording on-demand here.

Tips to find a sponsor for your next career move

Athena Coach Cate Goethals led a Salon for members on developing a network of sponsors to advance your career. She said it’s sometimes difficult to know who’s sponsoring you behind closed doors, and making an intentional effort to track and build those connections will serve you greatly.

“It’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you. Sponsorship is about exposure,” Cate said. “A sponsor is somebody who will put their own reputation on the line for you, including sticking their neck out and giving you tough feedback.”

To find sponsors, Cate recommends getting very comfortable with criticism.

“One rule for attracting sponsors is to demonstrate that you can take it – that you’re actually looking for criticism. You’re looking for ways to improve, you’re looking for bigger opportunities and have the energy to take them on,” Cate explained. “Sponsorship is transactional.”

Cate recommends taking the time to do a “sponsorship genealogy”. Who sponsored you? How did you meet them? Who have you sponsored in return, and how have those connections worked out for you?

Members can watch the full Salon recording with additional tips and exercises to build a network of sponsors here, or get started on the Navigating a Career Transition Pathway here.

Ready to accelerate your career transition? Read our Guide to Navigating a Career Transition here. Athena Alliance is the premier learning and networking community for executives with a goal. Joining Athena gives you access to the most up-to-date live and on-demand executive learning on the market, paired with a powerful networking community, top-tier coaching, and access to opportunities to drive your career forward. Join now to accelerate your executive journey.



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