How to have a career development conversation with your boss

Asking your boss for company-paid training could be as simple as inviting him or her for an informal chat over a cup of coffee.

Most managers want you to succeed and continue to improve, but when you’re a finance professional who is asking the company to pay for professional development, it’s important to go about it in the right way.

Everyone is responsible for their own career development. While others can help, it’s up to you to drive the process, a key part of which often comes down to obtaining approval for paid-for professional development (PD). 

Waiting until your boss suggests attending a conference, seminar or other training program may not be the best way forward. 

Instead, the onus is on you to initiate the discussion, keeping in mind that PD is an expense just like any other and that the expense needs to be justified.

Emphasise ROI for the company

“If I wanted an organisation to invest in me I would probably look at what I could bring to the table in terms of either growing revenue or cutting costs to cover the cost of the training,” says leading career development coach Danette Fenton-Menzies CPA. 

“But all types of PD are an investment, because the moment we stop learning we start going backwards, which means the performance of the organisation goes backwards.”

“One of the great things about [attending] events like CPA Congress is that you can go to multiple sessions to learn a variety of different skills – not just one – and bring them back into the business to help improve it,” Fenton-Menzies adds.

A part of this is about personal development, but it is also about exploiting new ideas to make the company more innovative and efficient.

All firms need to stay relevant, and in this respect CPA Australia’s Finance Capability Framework is a valuable resource through which you can identify the most suitable, in-demand areas of professional learning and development for finance professionals, and then pitch them to your boss.

Emphasise improved communication skills

At a recent conference, Fenton-Menzies was speaking to a group of accountants about communication skills.

“I said hands-up anyone who at any time is developing themselves in the communication field and no hands went up. But the question I had asked before that was ‘who thinks communication is a major part of their role?’, and everyone’s hands went up. 

“I then asked if they would be comfortable going to a tax accountant who had done no learning since university.

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“Whatever the PD, it provides people with new ideas about what they do and how they do it. Change is uncomfortable but it equals growth, so part of growing as a finance person is learning new communication skills which will, in turn, help to attract more clients to the practice.”

Opening the professional development conversation with your manager

Asking your boss for company-paid training could be as simple as inviting him or her for an informal chat over a cup of coffee.

You will, of course, still be expected to have done your homework and to explain exactly how your professional development is going to benefit the company. You should be prepared to talk about the relevant speakers at a conference and the networking opportunities it presents. 

In the case of a training course, be prepared to detail how you aim to apply your new skills in the workplace – ideally without giving the impression it is all about personal ambition or you are just aspiring to your boss’s job. 

Being able to cite the cost, program duration, deadline for registration and any estimated accommodation, flights or other expenses is also important.

“Most organisations can find the money for PD if they need it,” Fenton-Menzies says.

Taking the next step

Part of taking ownership of career development involves reaching out to people, and one of the best people to engage is your boss. However, not every manager will be comfortable talking about a staff member’s career growth opportunities over a coffee, so in such situations your plans for PD – along with the key deliverables to the company – should be submitted in writing. 

At a minimum, this is likely to guarantee appropriate follow-through.

Even so, the subject will probably at some stage need to be discussed face-to-face and it can – especially when asking a demanding boss for a significant financial investment – be a daunting prospect for some. 

To ease your nerves, Fenton-Menzies says watching American social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s famed “Power Poses” TED Talk might help. While Cuddy’s research methodology may have come under attack, more recent research suggests that at the very least, a quick pep talk can help you with self-confidence

If you have attended conferences or training programs in the past, also explain how they helped you become better in your role, or communicate more effectively, increase productivity or improve other workplace practices. If possible, provide a range of PD options.

Commit to knowledge sharing

Above all, when talking to your boss about PD remember that it’s not all about you or even the company, but mutual gain.

“Offer to share whatever you learn at your next team meeting,” Fenton-Menzies suggests. 

“Demonstrate a strong return on investment by showing how your new ideas can be applied across the entire business.” 

Make a brief PowerPoint presentation or write a recap for the company’s intranet so that the information can be disseminated company-wide to benefit multiple employees. It really could be the ticket to convincing your boss to pay for the exercise and, if they need to, get it approved.

“It’s also important to have a good list of questions that will open your boss up to PD,” Fenton-Menzies adds. 

“If you’re going to grow professionally you have to seek out new information, learn new things and start talking to new people. 

“Instead of seeing it as an imposition on your manager, see it as an opportunity for them to share what they have learned, because most people love talking about themselves. Show that you’re interested in how they got to be where they are and to talk about some of the stuff they’ve learned about leadership at courses or from books.”

Keeping the boss on-side never hurts and means he or she will probably be more likely to support your career goals.

How to talk your manager into sending you to a conference

  • Let the boss know what’s in it for the company.
  • Detail keynote speakers, topics and networking opportunities.
  • Go in open mind-ended, flexible and fully prepared with costs, program duration and registration deadline.
  • Show how you plan to share new knowledge with the team.
  • Prepare a list of personal accomplishments from previous professional development opportunities.

Read next: 5 ways to get the most out of an industry conference


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June 2018
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