How to Get Your Boss On Board with Your Outside Learning Opportunity

You've been following a conference hashtag on Twitter, and you think attending would reenergize you professionally or enable you to make valuable connections. Or perhaps you're interested in developing a new set of skills through a web development boot camp. You'll need an investment of time and possibly budget from your employer. Try these strategies to get your boss to support your plans for outside professional development.

1. Be prepared to answer important questions

If you ask your supervisor to send you to a conference (especially one in a ritzy locale) or a pricey course, you need to have answers to certain questions at the ready:

  •  How will this learning experience immediately benefit you in your role?
  •  How will your participation benefit your company in the long term?
  •  How will you share what you've learned?

Your boss needs to see a return on investment in the both the short and the long term. Budgets and staffing are too tight for most companies to support the proverbial boondoggle.

One strategy: Study the conference agenda or course syllabus, and identify the specific opportunities most beneficial to you. If you want to attend a conference, choose which breakouts you'll attend, or ask your boss to help select the ones most relevant to your role.

2. Demonstrate your personal investment in the opportunity

When you approach your boss, be ready to explain how you'll take care of your regular duties while you're at the conference or studying. If you need to take time off one afternoon each week or leave work earlier, you might need to work in the evening or on the weekend. Explain that your first priority is your job, and this opportunity won't affect your performance.

If budget is an issue, you could offer to split the cost with your employer, such as taking care of your travel expenses or paying for part of your course fee. This is particularly important if you're pitching a learning opportunity that's unrelated to your field. In this case, you should also be prepared to take PTO in order to participate. After all, it's a tough sell to get your employer to pay for you to change fields or industries (unless such a position is a possible transfer within your own company).

3. Make sure the timing's right

Timing is everything, whether it's the right time to participate in a learning experience or the right time to approach your supervisor. For instance, if you're a tax accountant, asking to attend a course in March or early April is not likely to be a winning proposition. Better to ask about an opportunity when it's not busy season.

Similarly, you don't want to request an outside learning opportunity when the professional development budget has been spent. Pay attention to when your company's annual budgeting process occurs, and make your requests then. It's easier to make requests several months out—and once something's in the approved annual budget, it's likely to happen.

Finally, don't spring requests for professional development on your supervisor during stressful or busy times. It's better to bring these types of requests up during regular check-ins related to your professional goals. If you don't have this time of meeting, ask for one with your supervisor, and approach him or her with a formal written proposal in mind. Don't expect an immediate answer—you need to give your supervisor the chance to run your request up the chain of command, particularly if you're requesting a professional development experience that is outside the normal budget or your current role.

4. Follow through on your commitment

Once you've secured permission and budget, be sure to keep your end of the bargain. Report on your experience as soon as you return to work, and start putting your newfound knowledge into action. You're paving the way for your boss to say yes to your future requests.

With the right approach, you might secure your employer's support for your outside learning opportunity. It never hurts to ask!

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