The Difference Between Mentors, Sponsors, and Advisors

Thaisa Fernandes
Mar 14 · 4 min read

It’s important to know the distinctions between mentors, sponsors, and advisors so I wanted to share this information here with you. We should have these resources in our lives, maybe in different moments and for different reasons, but I can’t stress enough the importance of them.

I encountered Carla’s Pearls YouTube video where she talks about how people always mention the mentor, but if you don’t know what a mentor is supposed to do and the difference between the sponsor and advisors, you might not have the right expectations or get the results you should.

These resources should be used as a way to learn and develop a partnership with someone who is more knowledgeable than you in areas related to your career or that you want to explore.

Mentorship, sponsorship, and advising are extremely important for people of color, LGBTQ+, and Latinx folks, providing valuable career guidance and psychosocial support we may otherwise miss out on.

▪️ Mentors

A mentor is that person who shares information with their mentee such as tips, motivation, resources, and even emotional support. A mentor can be a role model for the mentee. The mentor can be someone inside or outside your organization, a friend, and most importantly, someone who understands your context so that they can provide advice tailored to you and your aspirations.

Carla Pearls made this observation about who you tell the good and the bad. According to her, you should tell your mentor the good and also the bad and the ugly. Because of that, this person needs to be essentially someone you trust and someone who can be discreet about the information you are sharing.

For example, you can share details about something that is not working and ask for help on how to resolve it or even about your career aspirations goals. It’s important to select agenda items every time you talk with your mentor since you might be setting goals, exploring careers, identifying resources, and listing things to do.

▪️ Sponsors

A sponsor supports you, your organization, or an event via products, services, or financial incentives. Out of these three relationships, the sponsor is the most important relationship you should cultivate.

Carla Pearls talks about how the sponsor is that person you tell the good and the good, not ever the bad and the ugly. The reasoning is that the sponsor is the person who will argue passionately on your behalf with cross-functional teams and mostly in places and meetings you’re not part of.

The sponsor can, for example, help your promotion or fight for your bonus. This person will spend their political capital on your behalf so you should use that wisely. Carla makes an important point that you might survive many years in an organization without a mentor, but it’ll be extremely challenging to move up in an organization without a sponsor.

▪️ Advisors

An advisor is a person who gives advice that could help someone or an organization to achieve their goals by helping to formulate plans that could be short and/or long term. The advisor should be a resourceful person that will help you to evaluate plans, initiate projects, and evaluate processes. The advisor is commonly part of the leadership or a consultant, they should have specific experience and multidisciplinary expertise.

The advisor is that person who will offer guidance. They can review goals and objectives , and as I said before, review progress towards the goals. Depending on what you’re working on or want to achieve, you may have different advisors, since the advisor should have a deeper knowledge of the specific area. The advisor can function as a consultant advising you on a task-specific area.

Carla Pearls brought up an interesting point. She mentioned that the advisor is that person that you ask discrete questions. For example, you can ask the advisor their opinion about the plan you created for a specific project. The advisor doesn’t know you, you don’t have a work relationship with them. For these reasons, advisors are best used as sources of feedback on discrete questions.

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