By Jennifer Carter, President of EWF International

Whether you’re a self-improvement newbie or binge it like you’re watching Netflix, professional development is a must for everyone. Everyone. Why? It often means the difference between getting promoted and getting stuck. Another thing: your company should pay for it.  You’re an asset for them, and developing your skills benefits them, too.

Knowing this isn’t enough; you have to choose wisely and make the case for the investment of time and cash. This requires some homework: one part research, one part critical diligence, with a dash of soul searching. Here’s a primer on how to choose the right program, pitch your boss to cover the investment, and put what you learn to work for you – and your company.

Choosing the right professional development program

Choosing the right program for you requires you to think critically about your role, function in the company, and where you’re trying to go in your career.

Your role.  Think critically about your current role and job description. Are there areas where some development would take your work to the next level? Does the program align with the goals or KPIs you’ve set with your boss? Would it build your credibility with clients or leadership? Concretely identifying these areas gives you somewhere to start your research.

Your function.  Think about how you contribute to the company’s larger success. Are there “stretch” areas for you that would allow you to do that more directly – in your current role or another in the company? Thinking about your broader impact helps you identify less obvious development areas for yourself – which could lead to promotion.

Your career path.  Have you defined success for yourself? What do you want? What’s meaningful to you? Professional development is often a stepping stone for advancement – do you want to focus on acquiring a skillset, or developing your leadership capacity more broadly? What will serve you best?

Pitch your boss

Your leadership has a vested interest in your professional development – because you accomplish work for them. To successfully pitch your boss on covering the cost of your professional development, you need to focus on how it benefits her/him, the team, and the company, as well as you. Areas to focus on:

How would this make you a better employee, now and in the future?  Don’t focus on your weaknesses; instead, identify and focus on building strengths that can make a lasting impact.

Come with a plan on how to mitigate any potentially negative impact on the team.  If you have to take time away, have a solution in hand for how you’re going to cover that time or maintain your workload.

Speak in terms of “investment”, not cost.  Remember – you’re an investable asset!

Don’t leave money on the table.  Many companies have professional development budgets set aside explicitly for this use – don’t lose that money! Research what’s available to you, and pitch your opportunity as a way to use that investment.

Lock and load the details.  Come prepared with all the logistics, including time away from the office, curriculum, total investment, results, value, etc. The more complete your ask, the closer you are to “yes.”

Be persistent.  If you’re turned down, take it as a “not yet,” not a “no.” There are many reasons why the timing might not be right. Ask your boss why you were turned down, and turn it into a broader conversation about your development, goals, and resources to get there.

One last tip: make sure you understand what’s available to you through your company’s internal training and professional development. If you want to pursue an additional opportunity, make sure you can articulate why this has additional value beyond what’s already offered. This signals that you’ve done your homework, and understand the value you’re seeking.

Want to supercharge your career? Check out EWF International’s Emerging Leaders Program. Chock full of battle-tested tools, strategies, and insights to help you figure out what you want and chart your path to get there, it’s practical, immediately useful, and proven to help women get promoted, negotiate raises, and find greater professional fulfillment.