The young Roman philosopher Seneca coined a phrase that has lasted millenniums, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” I had a taste of this recently as I realized a previous role wasn’t the best fit for me – that I wanted something different, a role that would maximize my strengths but offered opportunity for growth.
Yes, finding this new opportunity (that led to me becoming a Project Manager for Cisco’s Supply Chain, Global Supplier Management organization) took preparation. It involved waiting for the right opportunity. But it also involved a great deal of mentorship, sponsorship, and advocacy.
And that’s where my career growth story begins.
At a networking event I shared my disdain for my monotonous work experience, and when asked what I would like to do instead, I shared that I would love to find myself in a position where I could connect with others frequently, lead and manage projects, and engage with diversity and university recruiting/retention efforts.
After confirming that I was open to opportunities outside of my comfort zone, two leaders that just happened to have provided me with mentorship said, “Send me your resume.” Then, the very next business day – I FOLLOWED UP.
I believe the art of the follow up is what separates ordinary from extraordinary. I emailed a soft copy of my resume followed by notes of my gratitude, strengths and career interest. It is this moment that my preparation transitioned my mentorship experience to a sponsorship-advocacy experience.
My mentor, now sponsor, Modupé Congleton, Global Inclusion, Diversity & Talent Strategy Leader for Supply Chain Operations, thanked me for my follow up and shared her knowledge of an opportunity that she believed I may be a fit for. Long post – made shorter, while I wasn’t a fit for that opportunity, my preparation during an informational interview that followed Modupe’s recommendation, led to a role specific to my interests and strengths being created and offered.
And that is how I became a Project Manager in Cisco’s Supply Chain. In this role, I get to engage in projects that improve the operational effectiveness of the business including my participation in inclusion and collaboration efforts (diversity and university hiring.) I have learned new skills and have continuous forward movement in my career.
You may be wondering what the difference is between mentorship, sponsorship, and advocacy. So, let’s break down the differences in these buzzwords. I’ve also added a couple favorite quotes from a mentor, sponsor, or advocate I’ve had while at Cisco.
1. Mentorship is guidance provided by an experienced person (mentor.) Understand mentors can be, should be, but don’t always have to be someone in your field and/or profession. It is helpful to have a diversified group of mentors. Have mentors in your profession, external to your organization, and internal in your organization who you can relate to personally. Be prepared to have a mentor by being teachable, inquisitive, humble.
“Victory loves preparation!” – Maurice Spencer, Cisco TAC Engineer Manager
“Come early, stay late, and raise your hand for work others won’t do.” — Scott McGregor, Cisco CSAP OJE Manager
2. Advocate(s) and/or Advocacy is connected to the creation and development of opportunities as they know what and where opportunities are available. Advocates are typically attracted to you based on the value that you offer and value that can be invested.
“Every book should not be judged by its cover, but if your book is being judged…change the story.” – Melissa Holder, Cisco CX Customer Success Executive
“Do what you say you’re going to do. You only get a few opportunities to build trust. Take advantage of those opportunities.” – Jeff Moore, Cisco Director Partner Sales
“When someone helps you, pay it forward and help someone younger than you.” “Don’t view your job as a job but learn quickly how to have a career.” – Modupé Congleton, Global Inclusion, Diversity & Talent Strategy Leader, Supply Chain Operations
3. Sponsorship is having someone who is both influential and willing to “advocate” for you.
“Make the choice to honor your voice!” – Carla Wright-Jukes, Cisco CX Manager-Public Sector
“Do the right thing and do things right…even if no one is looking.” – Jeneen Felder, Cisco Sr. Manager Learning Services
Career Tip: Provide more value than required. A lot of people hear, “Be visible.” But what does visibility mean? It doesn’t just mean “being seen” – because you can be seen and not heard OR remembered just as you can be seen and perceived in an unintentional way. Being visible means providing that extra value and taking that extra step to progress your career.
Career Tip: KNOW THYSELF. If you know where you don’t want to be, know where you would like to be. There was a time I didn’t know how to respond to, “Well, what would you like to be doing?” Discover what your answer is so that you are prepared when asked.
Be sure to always prepare yourself for the next opportunity.
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