In the modern corporate climate, support can feel like a scarce resource. An alarming portion of professionals feels isolated at work, while many workers are hungry for more attention and guidance.
To address this dynamic, many of the world’s leading businesses (including 71% of the Fortune 500) have implemented mentoring programs. These initiatives pair promising employees with experienced colleagues who offer career-related encouragement and advice.
Some professionals seek out even more forceful allies: sponsors who lobby for their advancement through the company’s ranks. Others turn to outside support, hiring career coaches to guide their professional trajectories.
Intrigued by these trends, we asked over 1,000 professionals about their experiences with mentors, sponsors, and career coaches, uncovering how popular and effective these forms of support actually are. Of this group, most agreed that professional advancement was difficult without some form of guidance.
But if more than two-thirds of respondents felt support was important, how many have benefited from mentoring, coaching, or sponsorship? Keep reading to find out.
Calling on a Coach
Career coaches are professional consultants, often hired to help with specific opportunities and challenges, such as seeking a new job. More than a third of respondents reported working with a career coach, and many reported getting concrete assistance with a job aspect. Of those who hired a career coach, roughly 56% said they found assistance with their resumes extremely helpful. Forty-seven percent highly valued their coach’s help with interview preparations.
Not all career coaching is so specific in nature, however: More than a third said their coach was extremely helping in creating a career plan. This process can be exploratory, allowing professionals to openly evaluate their own skills and ambitions. And because coaches don’t necessarily specialize in any particular industry, their help with career plans could be beneficial to professionals deciding on a field.
In retrospect, respondents who utilized career coaching seemed happy with their investments. More than three-quarters said the coaching they received helped advance their careers. Additionally, those who received career coaching were significantly less likely to feel completely dissatisfied with their careers than those who had not.
Making Use of Mentorship
Mentors take many forms: They can be co-workers, industry veterans, or professionals worthy of admiration. And while some businesses establish structured mentoring programs, many professionals also seek out more informal mentoring arrangements. Roughly 63% of respondents recalled having at least one mentor during their careers.
Whereas career coaches can help strategize your career moves, mentors often provide guidance that makes professional growth possible. Among respondents who had a mentor, over 60% said their mentors were extremely helpful in acquiring new skills. Additionally, a majority said their mentors helped them navigate the workplace environment. Some experts suggest this function of mentorship may be especially important to women and minorities, who frequently encounter both implicit and explicit bias in the workplace.
Overall, most people felt grateful for their mentors: Of those who had them, nearly 87% said these mentoring relationships helped advance their careers. Additionally, mentorship may be highly advantageous in boosting morale. One recent study found that the majority of employees with long-term mentors were happy in their current jobs.
Support of a Sponsor
Whereas mentors encourage career advancement through support and guidance, sponsors use their influence far more directly. Typically, sponsors shepherd professionals up the corporate ladder, advocating on their behalf for opportunities and promotions. Unfortunately, relatively few professionals enjoy this kind of concerted support: Less than a quarter of professionals said they had a sponsor.
While respondents said their sponsors helped them acquire new skills and navigate the workplace environment, they also proved to be helpful in getting promotions and raises. Forty-one percent of respondents said their sponsor was extremely helpful in getting a promotion, compared to just 32.7% who said the same of a mentor. Similarly, 35.4% of people said their sponsor was extremely helpful with assisting them in getting a raise, while 25.9% of people with mentors said the same.
Most people with sponsors were glad for the support, with 79% saying these relationships helped advance their careers. But beyond the benefits enjoyed by particular employees, sponsorship can be advantageous to organizations as a whole. Experts say sponsorships could help counteract long-standing industry inequalities: Female professionals in STEM fields, for example, can benefit from allies in positions of influence.
Mentorship in Management?
Our findings suggest that mentorship and sponsorships can be particularly effective in combination. Among respondents in senior management positions and higher, 23% reported having both during their careers. This finding may explain why many career experts urge professionals to seek out sponsors, even if they already have helpful mentors.
Lower on the corporate ladder, employees were far less likely to enjoy this two-pronged support. Roughly half of entry-level, intermediate, and middle-management professionals had a mentor only, indicating that people across employment levels seek out some form of guidance.
A gender discrepancy also emerged: Women were less likely than men to report having a sponsor or mentor. A lack of guidance and support from company leaders is one form of discrimination that women often experience in the workplace – and this dynamic likely contributes to the persistent gender pay gap. Perhaps to overcome a lack of support within their organizations, women are more likely to seek out the services of a career coach.
Access and Advancement
In tangible terms, how might career coaching, mentoring, or sponsorship translate to better pay or promotions? Among professionals who hired a career coach, the median annual salary was $50,000, which is $7,250 more than that of people who hadn’t. This statistic could demonstrate that career coaches are well worth their fees – or that only high-earning professionals can afford their services. Additionally, those who utilized career coaches were promoted slightly more often, on average.
Mentors and sponsors each seemed beneficial: Those who had either earned substantially more annually than those who had neither. But those who had both seemed to benefit most, earning more than twice as many promotions, on average, as those who had neither. People with both sponsors and mentors also had a median annual salary of $52,000, or around $18,000 more than the median income across the U.S. If you’re contemplating seeking a sponsor, mentor, or both, these results suggest you’ll see the payoff in your paycheck.
Cumulatively, our findings offer strong evidence of the advantages of professional support in various forms.Among those who received mentoring, sponsorship, or career coaching, the majority felt their careers benefited as a result. Moreover, these sources of professional support were correlated with higher salaries and a greater number of promotions.
However, our results also suggest that some have not yet enjoyed access to these resources, especially in the early stages of their careers. If you’re planning your professional trajectory, seeking out a mentor, sponsor, or career coach could be a wise move – even if your boss hasn’t considered it yet. For employers, encouraging these supportive relationships could be a way to help team members feel valued and engaged.
And if you’re embarking on a new business venture, we hope you’ll surround yourself with many sources of assistance, encouragement, and guidance. At ZenBusiness, we’d love to be part of your team. We help companies get off the ground with intuitive and affordable business formation services, simplifying the legal hurdles in a single, streamlined platform. With expert customer support, we’ve got your back as you build your business.
We surveyed 1,004 current employees about their experiences with coaches, mentors, and sponsors during their careers.
Respondents were 51.6% women and 48.4% men. The average age of respondents was 37.4 with a standard deviation of 11.3.
Respondents were asked to report whether they had a career coach, mentor, sponsor, or a combination of them throughout their careers. They then answered questions about their experiences working with each person. Given that people could have had more than one mentor, sponsor, or career coach, respondents were instructed to answer questions about how helpful they were based on their first experience working with a career coach, sponsor, or mentor.
Respondents were asked to report how many promotions they had received so far in their careers. This was reported as an average in this project. The averages presented were calculated to exclude outliers. This was done by finding the initial average and multiplying it by three. The product of that was then added to the initial average. Anything above this sum was then excluded from the data.
The data presented here rely on self-reporting. Common issues with self-reported data include exaggeration and selective memory. For example, it’s possible that respondents augmented the number of promotions they’d received so far in their careers, skewing the data.
Fair Use Statement
Planning for your career and climbing the ladder can be a difficult task made easier by help from experienced professionals in your field. If you know someone who would benefit from the findings in this project, you are free to share them for any noncommercial reuse. We only ask that you link back here so that people can view the project in its entirety and review the methodology. This also gives credit to our contributors for their efforts.