Getting Certified on Your Company's Dime: How to Ask Your Boss to Foot the Bill

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In a perfect world, any company worth working for would happily cover the costs of each and every one of your certifications. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. Even when your employer does pay for exams, you're typically still faced with the inevitable challenge of convincing them to fork over enough dough for classes or training. Here are some tips to help you persuade your boss that you're worth it.

Get Motivated

First, ask yourself why you want this. Yes, for real. Go ahead and quiz yourself on why you really want/need this specific certification. Write down everything that comes to mind, and get really specific here. Answer things like: how will this make me more valuable to the company (is it in line with our mutual goals)? In what areas will I perform better? How will I prove it once I'm certified?

Now take a quick trip down memory lane back to your initial interview with the hiring manager -- remember all those wonderful things you said about the company? Remember how desperately you wanted this job? At some point, you convinced them that bringing you on board was in the company's best interest. Apply the same sentiment in your request and you're sure to be heard.

Takeaway: Having a specific plan and leaving your own needs out of the equation will help you carve out the most convincing case.

Rate Yourself

It's reality check time. Make sure your own performance and activity is up to par before making your request. You can think of this like it's your annual evaluation; how well would your boss say that you measure up right now? If you genuinely believe you'd have a glowing review, this can make asking the bigwigs to fork over company dough a heck of a lot less stressful.

If you can, point to past projects that benefited from your leadership and emphasize the even greater impact your mentoring could have with a set of newly acquired skills and certifications. On the other hand, if you're feeling a little shaky about your performance, you may want to consider stepping up your game before asking your boss to foot the bill.

Takeaway: Make sure you're at the top of your game before making any requests.

Calculate Costs and Time

Your boss may be quick to throw some extra cash your way for a measly test fee, but mention a $4,000 week-long training course and you could quickly hit a wall. Make sure you know exactly how much you're requesting in training and test fees, and that it's in line with your company's budget. Additional expenses aside for a minute, time spent away from the office can immediately trigger doubts too. That costly course may only take a week to complete, but one week can start to look like an eternity to your boss when it means you'll be away from your desk the entire time. You need to emphasize that this isn't time lost, and again shift the focus to how it will benefit the company.

Takeaway: Know exactly what you're asking for and be realistic about it.

Perfect Your Pitch

Before even scheduling a time to meet with your boss, practice your approach. Silly as it might make you feel, it can help to do a quick run through, or two, with your spouse or a trusted pal. Give this person full permission to call you out on any potential flaws in your pitch (and for heaven's sake, make sure you pick somebody who isn't afraid to tell you what's up).

Take their critique into consideration and make any changes as necessary. Remember that confidence matters and your boss will notice whether or not you've got it; you're far more likely to hear an enthusiastic yes if you walk in there with your head held high.

Takeaway: Have a plan and a positive approach.

Step Out of the Spotlight

As I've already mentioned, one of your boss' first concerns will be cost. This is why it's so important to take the focus away from you. Talk too much about yourself and why you want this certification and you'll severely damage your chances. No company wants to invest its dollars in an employee who doesn't have its best interests at heart.

You can stack the odds in your favor by highlighting a few ways in which your certification can result in extra revenue for the company. Let your boss know that this certification will allow you to tackle new challenges. Call attention to the potential savings -- instead of taking on new employees or part-timers on contract, you can soon step in and get the job done.

Takeaway: Remember the golden rule; it's not about you, it's about them.

Make it Count

So, let's just pretend for a minute that you've mastered the art of persuasion. You're in. You've convinced your boss that you're the shining knight of his encrypted dreams. Your company has covered all of the costs for your training and certification. Now what? Now, you panic ... Just kidding, just kidding. But you will need to get your butt off that ergonomic chair and get motivated. Can you bring in additional work with your gleaming new certification? Money coming in isn't the only way. You can train or mentor other employees who might be on a similar track. Discover ways to pull the right levers and it will not only help you maximize the dollars spent on your certification, but it will also help you shine in another critical area: Leadership.

Takeaway: Put your certification to use and make stuff happen.

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Stacy Warden

Stacy Warden is a contributing editor of the Pluralsight blog and has worked in publishing since the dawn of the iPhone. Currently, Stacy deals in tech and education--a combination that she finds absolutely fascinating. You can find her on Twitter @sterrsi.