Build a “Starting Line-Up” for Your Career

By Stacey Bledsoe

There are many people that support your education and career journey, but I recommend that everyone include the following three people on their “starting line-up” of career success – a mentor, a sponsor, and a coach. Most people know what a mentor does, but not many understand the role of a sponsor, or how to find a certified coach.

While you are in college, a sponsor will likely be a professor or internship supervisor who takes you under their wing. This is someone who brings your name up for new opportunities, and throws your name “in the hat” without you even being aware. The easiest distinction between a mentor and a sponsor is that a mentor talks to you, whereas a sponsor talks about you.

To find a sponsor, you need to work on developing strong and authentic relationships with those who are a step or two ahead of you in work and life. These relationships develop naturally when you do great work, and sponsors will stick their neck out for you because you are a high performer. Those in a position to help you will work on your behalf, because your work bolsters their reputation – and your success becomes their success.

Working with a professional coach, such as a career coach or life coach, is a great way to help you find a job that aligns with your passion. This person makes observations and asks tough questions to help you uncover the values and purpose behind your desires – rather than giving advice. Most people think that a coach is out of reach, but there are plenty of reputable coaches in training who charge nominal fees to get hours required for their certification.

When it comes to mentors, I believe the best relationships develop organically over time. Programs that match you with a mentor can also work, but generally take much longer to develop trust and substance at the core of these relationships. To determine who might be a good fit, take stock of the people in your life by asking the following questions:

  • Who is further along in a profession that you admire?
  • What successful supervisors do you like to spend time with at work?
  • Who are emerging leaders in your field or profession?

Most seasoned professionals are eager to pay it forward and are often flattered when someone seeks out their advice or guidance. Having someone inside your organization is critical, especially at the start of your career. It’s equally important to have someone who can act as a sounding board outside your organization, to provide confidential perspective on your challenges, opportunities and goals.

Bledsoe has drawn these insights from 20 years in human resources, working one-on-one with professionals as a mentor and coach. You can reach her at

Resources To Find A Coach

  • ICF (International Coaching Federation)
  • Co-Active Training Institute,
  • CPCC, Certified Professional Co-Active Coach
  • ACC, PCC, or MCC (Associate, Professional, and Master Certified Coach respectively).

Native Scholar Internship Experiences

Dakota Kahbeah (Muscogee Creek) has always been an athlete. “Growing up, I was constantly into sports.” But it was an internship in physical therapy at College of Muscogee Nation that opened his eyes to a career path that allowed him to help other athletes. “I noticed how when someone was hurt, and they couldn’t perform anymore, it would really bring them down. Athletic trainers would go in and help them recover, and get their confidence back … and that caught my eye.” Now Dakota helps competitors get back in the game in the physical therapy program at Fort Lewis College. “It’s really awesome to see people as they leave. They’re like ‘Thank you! You just made my life better!’

Start with Explore Careers to look for academic programs that may align with personal and professional goals; additionally, find useful information on possible job tracks.

    • Academic Programs and Jobs
    • Networking
    • Native-Focused Degrees and Programs
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    • Tribal Colleges and Universities
    • Future Planning Form

Check out Programs to Develop Your Skills page to learn about student programs that can support academic and skill development goals.

    • Student Professional Development Grants
    • 7 Generation Innovators Fellowship
    • Internship Matching (coming soon)
    • Innovation Programs (coming soon)

The Professional Development page offers basic resources to support professional and career development.

    • Creating Your Résumé
    • Interview Tips and Professional Etiquette
    • Graduate School
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Employment Resources provides basic information for us as we move from entry level positions to upper-level management roles.

    • Entry Level
    • Management Level
    • Leadership Level (coming soon)
    • Entrepreneurship Level (coming soon)
    • Retirement Level (coming soon)

The Career Advising Resources page provides resources for those who are supporting academic and professional journeys for others.

    • Cultural Career Advising
    • Six R Evaluation Framework
    • Research Repository

Tribal Colleges and Universities

Tribal colleges and universities provide dynamic higher education opportunities, most on or near reservation lands. Known for their remarkable programs, culturally-relevant curricula, and familial student care – tribal colleges allow students to further their careers, attain an advanced degree, or better support their communities.