With the pace of trends these days, your education should not end the day you earn a degree.
But even if you forgo a pricey master’s degree, decent professional development classes can cost hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. So, why not try getting your company to fund some extra training? Plenty of organizations are more than willing to help employees grow professionally. But in this tight economy, it’s easy to feel awkward or nervous about asking for financial assistance from your current employer, even if they too will reap benefits from your participation in a class.
Here are several steps you can take to help secure funding from your boss for professional training and development opportunities:
Rock the research
I’m lucky enough to have a boss who understands the importance of continuing education. So, when I asked to enroll in several online mediabistro courses, she was happy to sign off — but only because I provided her with the information she needed.
The worst thing you can do when asking your boss to fund training is be unprepared, so make sure to present your employer with multiple well-researched options.
There are several ways to go about researching training opportunities. Check with professional associations, which offer annual conferences, webinars or courses for specified industries—and members often receive discounts. Local universities and community colleges have extensive course listings and certificate programs and so do training institutes and think tanks. You can also ask your coworkers for recommendations because it’s likely they may have experience with development in your field.
After the research phase is complete, I send my boss an e-mail with the facts:
- Information about the opportunity
- Up-front fees and any other related expenses (i.e. travel, food, etc.)
- Benefits to me and the organization
- Where and when it will take place
End your email with the deadline for signing up and offer to discuss it further in person. Even if you don’t include every detail in the pitch, you should have the information readily available in case your boss has follow-up questions.
Be reasonable and considerate
Recognize that if you work for a small non-profit struggling to stay afloat, then it’s not the time to ask for a $1,000 plane ticket to a 3-day conference in Geneva, Switzerland. When pitching your boss, I also recommend including three options in different price ranges: low, medium and high.
Be sure to consider and compare each option. Is there an online opportunity so you can save on travel and accommodation? What about a local community college or training institute instead of an accredited university? If you feel very strongly that the more expensive option is superior, that’s okay, just make sure you list what’s missing from the cheaper alternative.
Be sensitive to the fact that your training may also interfere with the typical work week. Reassure your boss that you’re willing to work overtime if you will be out of the office for a conference, and make it clear that you plan to complete all readings or assignments on your own time.
Show tangible takeaways
It’s clear that investing in training and development can have positive effects for employees and companies. After she was able to demonstrate tangible benefits of a narrative journalism course, Steph Auteri, a freelance writer, editor and career coach, received partial funding from a past employer. “It’s all about painting a picture of how the class will help you be an even better employee, whether it’s a class that will hone a particular skill that you use on the job, or provide you with a greater understanding of the inner workings of the industry,” she explains. “If you can find that connection, you’re golden.”
I like to focus on how the professional development opportunity I am seeking could help an aspect of the organization that can clearly be improved. If the company only has 40 followers on Facebook, offer to take a social media class so you can build visibility of the brand.
It’s the boss’s job to think about bottom lines, so think of ways you can show savings in conjunction with a higher quality output. Let’s say you want to hone your web skills and your company outsources these duties to a consultant. Offering to take over these responsibilities with the right training could lead to big savings and earn you points.
Offer to pitch in
This is perhaps the simplest way to show your boss you’re really serious about an opportunity. If you suggest using some of your own funds, you will show that you believe in the investment as well. More often than not, if a request is well thought out, your boss may still offer to pay in full.
Many organizations now offer tuition assistance programs, so don’t forget to check with your supervisor or HR to see if that’s available and what courses qualify.
If your boss’s initial answer is negative, don’t give up right away. “Open up a dialogue about why they turned you down,” Auteri says. “Perhaps they weren’t clear on why the class is relevant, and you could either A) further explain it to them or B) pinpoint a different class they think would be more relevant to your job.” You could also ask your boss if they would reevaluate in three months or at your next appraisal.
In the meantime, explore free training options, including online webinars, video lectures and educational blogs. If communications is your field, check out the excellent online tutorials from Knight Digital Media Center. Or find and watch relevant TED talks, which are always a great source of inspiration. Think outside of the box, too; did you know the Apple Store offers free workshops?
If you still feel adamant that a specific course is crucial to your career growth, it may be time to suck it up and front the bill yourself. “If a class truly is something you think would help you in your career, you need to be willing to make that investment, whether your employer is backing you or not,” concludes Auteri.
So look out for new training opportunities at all times. It will show your boss that you’re a keeper and make clear that you’re continually willing to learn new things.
Alyssa Martino is a writer and editor based just outside the nation’s capital. She loves digging for stories that connect people, place and possibility. Click your way over to her website to learn more.
Ed. note: Why not test Alyssa’s ideas for Brazen’s Executive Social Media Bootcamp? This four-week online course is designed to take your social media efforts to the next level. Check out the agenda here. It’ll be an easy sell for your boss, we promise.