How to Convince Your Boss to Help You Grow Your Career
Look around your office. Do you plan to stay in that role at that company until you retire? The likely answer is no. Some people want to advance up the ladder within an organization, while others want to make a move and work for their dream companies or change what they do day-to-day.
There are multiple programs that can prepare you for the next big step. Mentorships can set a path to a career change, leadership courses can prepare you for advancement, and job training can give you the skills you need to do what you love. However, you can’t just sign up for these options without planning: You have to create a clear path for your career.
Here’s how you can take control of your future and convince your boss to support your training and self-improvement.
Reflect on Why You Want Additional Training and Responsibility
It’s easy to reach out for leadership coaching or mentorship for the wrong reasons. Maybe your coworker got promoted over you or you’re bored with your job. These reasons have no bearing on whether or not you are ready to grow in your career. Kim Malone Scott, author of “Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity,” encourages employees to really look at why they want mentorship.
“You’ll be persuasive if you can show that you understand what managers are actually responsible for, and that you are eager to do those things yourself,” she writes. “But if all you really want is more control, more money, or just the bragging rights, your boss will quickly pick up on your intentions and you’ll risk undermining your credibility.”
Some people want to be a leader for the ego-boost, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to take on the role and extra work. In fact, Forbes contributor Pauleanna Reid recommends a little self-reflection in those looking for a mentor. Your mentor should be able to provide resources, tasks, and mental tasks for you to take in. This person does more than buy you coffee and take you out to lunch.
“Depending on the nature of your relationship with your mentor and the level of dedication involved, you will need to make sacrifices for your success,” Reid writes. “Only you can determine what you are willing to forgo.”
Evaluate how much in both time and resources you can set aside for your career growth. You can’t expect all of your responsibilities to disappear just because you are part of a training or mentorship program.
Prove That You Can Handle the Challenges of Growth
Ideally, your boss shouldn’t be surprised that you want to grow within the company or improve yourself professionally. You’ve already proved yourself to your boss with the work you do every day, journalist Marguerite Ward writes. Employees who regularly meet their goals and then take steps to do more and support their coworkers are typically the ones that get noticed. If you have never taken initiative in your day-to-day tasks, your manager might not think you even want to take on a leadership role.
John Malloy, regional director at automotive executive search firm AutoKineto, shares a story about when he managed some 400 employees as president of a component manufacturing company. One employee had only been with the company for about 90 days before he met with Malloy to review what it takes to advance in the company. Malloy gave him a list of six items and agreed to meet again in a few months. At the follow-up meeting, the employee reviewed what he had done to meet those six tasks and asked for more.
If you show that kind of drive to grow and learn, your manager will notice.
Pitch Your Boss With a Program in Mind
If you have a mentor program or leadership class in mind, present the information clearly to your manager and let them review it. This shows how carefully you have considered your options.
“It's hard for anyone to say no to someone who is bursting with enthusiasm, and it always helps to back the emotional energy up with strong knowledge as well,” writes Trenton Moss, founder and CEO of experience design agency Webcredible. Being prepared allows you to better field your manager’s questions and make a convincing case.
If your company doesn’t have a dedicated employee training or mentorship program, or is unwilling to send you to participate in a program, you can still propose a plan of action to grow your career. However, don’t place the burden on your boss to create or lead a program.
“There's nothing wrong with wanting to do more with your days at work -- but don't make it your manager's responsibility to figure out how you'll fill those gaps,” says personal finance writer Maurie Backman at The Motley Fool. “Rather, you should come in with suggestions so your boss doesn't need to be burdened with it.”
Mary Stanton, VP People and Learning at Saba Software, shares an infographic with 20 ideas for mentoring and coaching in the workplace. These range from shadowing different leaders to creating a vision statement and role playing to practice skills in challenging situations. These are short term ways you can grow, even if there’s no way to advance right now.
Make a Convincing Argument to Receive This Support
Regardless of your career goals and plans, you still need to sell your manager on the idea of mentorship, training, or leadership growth. To convince your boss, emphasize the ROI for your company in your pitch, writes Irene Koo, MBA candidate at Yale School of Management.
Focusing on corporate benefits will take the sting out of the time and monetary costs of giving you the training or mentorship that you need. Plus, no one wants to invest in employee training just to have that worker leave for a better opportunity. You need to prove that this training is paving your way for the company’s future.
Furthermore, ROI isn’t just something you bring up in your pitch meeting and never address again. Catherine Mattice Zundel, speaker and HR consultant, says employees need to prove the value of the training they receive. They should meet with their boss to discuss what they are learning and look for ways to put it into practice. The more you can show that your training is improving the workflow of the company, the more likely your boss will agree to send you and other team members to more workshops and training programs.
And if your manager rejects a particular opportunity, don’t feel too dejected. It doesn’t mean you will be stuck in that position forever.
“If you’re too attached to a very narrow definition of success or plan for your career, you will ignore amazing opportunities,” says Dr. Caroline Simard, managing director of the VMware Women's Leadership Innovation Lab at Stanford University. “Keep your eye on the goal, but don’t stand in the way of the end result. Sometimes, that means doing a task that you’re not particularly interested in. But if it’s really important to achieving your vision, it’s absolutely worth doing.”
Find a Mentorship Program for Your Needs
If you choose to seek out a mentor to help you grow professionally, you may be tempted to reach out to your direct boss — especially if you admire them and want to be in their position someday. However, this could be a mistake.
“The manager-as-mentor model can work well if the employee is focused on excelling in the current role,” education entrepreneur Drew Hansen writes. “It can be awkward, though, for employees to admit to their managers the weaknesses they want to improve when those same managers are in the midst of preparing a performance review.”
Additionally, not all employees want to stay in their current department or career path. It can be uncomfortable to tell your boss that you don’t see yourself at the company or even working in the field in the future.
To further understand the nature of the boss-employee relationship, you need to be aware of the differences between the two roles, says the team at MentorCloud. Managers are company-focused. Everything they do needs to reflect the best interests of the organization. Meanwhile, mentors are person-focused. They take a step back and dedicate their time and energy to the goals of one person. It can be challenging for one person to wear both hats at once.
So, if your boss isn’t going to be your mentor, then who? Mark Swartz, career specialist and author, advises that you look for someone you already know. Someone who is more experienced than you and who has already opened doors for you just in order to help you succeed. You also want to look for someone who isn’t already overbooked so they can dedicate time to working with you. This criteria should narrow down the field of candidates to a small handful of people you would be prepared to guide you.
Know That These Programs Are There to Challenge You
Whether you sign up for a program and work directly with a mentor, be prepared to stretch yourself emotionally and mentally. The road ahead is meant to make you stronger, which means it won’t always be easy. “There are times I haven’t liked what my mentors have said,” entrepreneur Sue-Ellen Watts writes. “I didn’t want to listen because their ‘advice’ was hard for me to implement or meant I had to make a tough decision I didn’t want to make.”
Watts emphasizes that your mentors and guides are supposed to tell you what you need to hear, even if it isn’t what you want to hear. Their job isn’t to make your problems go away or always tell you that you are doing a great job. That said, your mentor is there to guide you, not take control. You may listen to their advice and then choose a path other than the one they recommend. As Brett Caine, CEO of mobile engagement solutions provider Urban Airship syas: "Counsel need not always be followed, but should always be carefully considered."
Only you can know what programs are right for your career advancement. However, listen to your managers and those around you. They might see something in you that you don’t.