Developing a Network of Career Support as a Higher Education Professional

Finding and utilizing a network of career support is an important component of every leader’s ongoing professional development. It is through these networks that you find the support, guidance and opportunities that will help you to advance in your career and become a stronger professional. Your career support network should include mentors, coaches and sponsors. They are all different, and you should have all three. Below, we highlight the roles that each of these members of your career support network play in your professional development.


Mentors are professionals in your network who will be honest with you about your professional development and career trajectory. With mentors, you can discuss your professional issues and problems, and they will be able to provide valuable feedback and context. You can also ask someone to mentor you. When seeking out a mentor, look for someone whom you respect and who is respected in their professional area, one that is generally close to yours.


Coaches are professionals in your network who may play a more involved role in your professional development. Coaches will work with you to improve your skills – from public speaking and time management, to how you present yourself, to dealing with work conflicts. They will also help you to self-assess your ongoing development, and can push you to improve and grow personally. When making the decision to work with a coach, you should pick someone who you trust and who will be willing to play a more involved role in your professional development. If you choose to work with a coach, you must also be willing to address your professional issues and make changes to your approach.


Sponsors are folks who will make sure you are at the table and lead you to opportunities. In other words, they will open doors for you and assist with your career advancement, such as placing you on important committees or in leadership roles. You cannot ask someone to sponsor you. Sponsors are people who have chosen to sponsor you because they see your potential and strengths, and have the power to move you forward. You need to make yourself visible and engaged to increase your opportunity to be sponsored.

For regular higher ed #career tips and advice, follow us on Twitter @spelmanjohnson!

Valerie Szymkowicz

Vice President - Spelman Johnson

Valerie Szymkowicz received her BA in natural science/environmental studies from New England College and her MEd in student personnel from the Graduate School of Education at the University of Vermont. For over 20 years, she worked in higher education at both public and private research, baccalaureate, and liberal arts institutions, principally in the areas of academic advising, experiential education, and career services. With a strong belief in cultivating leadership potential among talented rising stars, Valerie has been a guest presenter at the NASPA Region I Mid-Managers Institute facilitating discussion on professional development priorities and she regularly presents on topics related to building capacity and leadership potential for other professional organizations including the National Association of Colleges and Employers and the Eastern Association of Colleges and Employers.