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How to Build Your Personal Board for Career Success

Assembling a “personal board of directors” is a must for any career-minded business-school graduate, especially for women looking to lead. Their boards should be populated with both mentors and sponsors who can provide advice on a range of issues, from career development to salary negotiation to navigating workplace politics.

“I believe that everybody needs to have people they can bounce ideas off of,” said Roxanne Hori, NYU Stern School of Business Associate Dean for Career Services. “Some people I know claim six or seven mentors, who they loop into conversations about their career at different points in time.”

Abby Scott, Assistant Dean for MBA Career Management at the Berkeley Haas School of Business, said while a mentor can be anyone who provides support and direction, a sponsor is someone who will champion you within your own organization. “We’ve shied away from offering formal mentor programs where we match students with alums,” she shared. “We give them the tools to find and nurture their own mentors because we’ve found that these relationships tend to be more successful when they’re organic.”

Choose wisely

Hori at NYU agrees. “We informally introduce our students to alumni, but there needs to be some chemistry between the individuals in order for a mentorship to truly work.” She advised MBA students, “Don’t just glom onto anyone to be your mentor or sponsor. Be selective in whom you choose; observe them in meetings and other settings and get to know them before you ask for their help, so you know their style and feel that it’s a good match.”

While most young career professionals understand mentorship, asking for sponsorship in the workplace is a newer phenomenon, especially for women. At the middle-management level and above, a sponsor can become critical to help position women appropriately and to have their backs when promotion and development decisions are being made. Such advocacy may speed progress toward gender equality in the leadership ranks. “Just giving them the vocabulary and modeling how it can be done successfully is helpful,” says Scott. “They know it’s okay to ask for sponsorship.”

Young people earning MBAs are already paying attention to their careers. They made the commitment to a professional graduate education — they took the time and spent a lot of money — so they are going to be very thoughtful about what’s down the path for them. Enlisting and engaging a personal board of directors will ensure a successful career pathway for MBA students and all young career professionals.

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