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Advice / Career Paths / Training & Development

Want to Pursue a Learning Opportunity Outside Your Field? Here's How You Can Get Your Boss on Board

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Sometimes in your career, you’ll find that you’re interested in learning about something that doesn’t align perfectly with your current job. For example, at a previous job, I worked in nonprofit communications, and while I enjoyed what I did, I also had an interest in personal finance. (In fact, I even write a personal blog devoted to the subject!)

I came across a retreat focused on financial literacy for women and thought it would be a great way to connect and learn more from professionals in the finance space. And not only did I get permission from my boss to attend, I convinced him to let me use some of our team’s professional development budget to pay for it. Yep, that’s right: I got my boss to pay for me to learn something that wasn’t related to my job—and you might be able to do it, too.

Of course, if you want to try it, you’ll need to go about it in a way that won’t negatively affect you in your current role. First and foremost, make sure you’re in good standing with your boss before you approach them with a request that’s so outside the box.

“Context is key,” says Traci Wilk, Senior Vice President of People at The Learning Experience. “It’s essential to consider the relationship you have with your manager. If the relationship has been built on transparency and trust, the conversation will go much smoother.”

Even when you and your boss are on good terms, you might feel hesitant to bring up the topic. To get you started, here are some focus points to consider when you want to sell your boss on a professional development opportunity outside of your field—and maybe even get them on board with paying for it!

Explain How You’ll Add Value to Your Company

If your boss is spending money for you to attend a conference or seminar, they’ll understandably want to know how it will benefit the company. Come from an angle where the opportunity can not only be good for you, but the team as a whole.

Depending on what your interest is, it could be something that your co-workers will be curious about as well (like social justice or health and wellness). When you approach your boss, offer to create a presentation or brief write-up for the rest of your team on what you learned at the conference (or course, or seminar, or panel).

I knew from previous conversations at work that a few of my co-workers wanted to know more about personal finance. When I talked with my boss, I offered to take notes at the retreat and share what I learned in our next department meeting. Including this kind of proposal when you ask about a potential opportunity helps to show that it will be a win for everyone at your job—not merely a fun extra for you alone.

Make It Convenient

It’s harder to sell your boss on a non-work-related opportunity if it means you have to take a whole week off work for it. Try to choose something that takes place after work hours, during the weekend, or even online. This way you won’t leave your team hanging while you’re away from the office.

The retreat I wanted to attend happened to take place during a three-day weekend, which was lucky for me. I left after work on Friday, joined the retreat on Saturday and Sunday, decompressed a bit on Monday, and was back in the office the following Tuesday.

You might not have the same luck I did, but do what you can to make sure your professional development doesn’t interrupt the work flow at your job. It could mean staying an extra hour or two to finish up projects before you go or when you get back.

If the conference you want to attend is a bit pricey, you can also compromise on who will cover it, and how much. Offer to split the cost, or cover your own travel if needed. Make every effort to be proactive and thoughtful when you prepare your ask.

Find the Right Timing

Timing is everything when you have any kind of request for your boss, but especially when you’re asking for something extra. If you bring it up during a hectic week at work, it could hurt your chances. I know, you might be anxious to just ask and get it out of the way—but rushing into it without consideration could backfire.

“Timing is critical. If you see your manager is having a stressful day, it’s probably not the best time to have this conversation,” Wilk says.

Wilk advises scheduling a time that’s fairly quiet at work, and preferably during a time of the year when your boss is already thinking about your professional progress, like a quarterly performance review cycle.

You can take it a step further and invite your boss to coffee to keep the conversation less work-centric. Ask your boss for input on where you’re at professionally, then bring up the opportunity you’re thinking of and ask if they think it might be a good fit.

Pursue Job-Related Professional Development, Too

You want to assure your boss you’re not just trying to rack up experiences for your personal passion on the company’s dime. Continue to show interest in your work (you’re engaged and performing well, right?) and make sure you’re also pursuing opportunities that are directly related to your role.

Depending on your company’s professional development budget, it’s not a bad idea to pair your request with the mention of another conference or workshop that does tie in with your job. (And if the budget is tight, seek out a free or low-cost opportunity that you can pay out of pocket for. This goes back to the point about being willing to compromise.)

Most bosses understand that professional development doesn’t always fit into neat little boxes. As long as you keep communication open and continue to bring value at your day job, you can win your boss’ confidence to explore outside interests.