How to Ask for Professional Training in 'Hard Skills'

You're driven to stay competitive in today's finance and accounting career environment, and you know you need to keep up with your professional training and keep your hard skills sharpened.

Well-developed soft skills, of course, are as important as technical skills to career advancement. Thirty percent of chief financial officers (CFOs) polled in a Robert Half survey said poor interpersonal skills were the most common reason for an employee's failure to advance in the company. However, only 19 percent of CFOs said they would invest in nontechnical skills training for employees.  

If you'd like to sharpen some hard skills, on the other hand, it's worth the effort to ask for relevant accounting training at work. The tips below will help you develop a plan for speaking with your boss about professional training and continuing education.

Consider the existing professional training

What professional development does your company already provide? Are there on-site training courses scheduled? Are there opportunities to attend conferences or seminars? Is online learning available? Before asking for anything new, read through company policies. Nothing makes you look more unprepared than asking for an opportunity that already exists.

A Robert Half Finance & Accounting survey shows that half of the finance and accounting professionals are very concerned about keeping their skills current in the next three to five years, and 64 percent think the chance to gain new skills is a critical consideration when making a career move.

Know your audience

While you may be primarily concerned with career advancement when you ask for continuing professional education, your boss is more focused on end results. Consider what skills your team is lacking and show your boss how your new knowledge will benefit the department and organization. Your manager is more likely to support training if there's going to be a good return on the company’s investment.

Make a proposal

Your boss may fear that facilitating your additional training will make you a more eligible employee for a new job — at a different company. If you want your boss to support your goals, show how you plan to use your new skills to contribute to your current company. Also, offering a defined commitment of one or two years, for example, can be a good way to prove to your boss that you are invested in both personal and company improvement. Some employers have requirements like this built into tuition reimbursement programs.

Offer options

When speaking to your boss about training opportunities, be sure to approach the conversation with multiple options. If paying for a graduate degree is out of the question, perhaps your company would spring for a conference or seminar registration instead. Make it known that you are open to learning opportunities in a variety of nontechnical areas.

Be prepared

When asking for additional accounting training, especially continuing professional education that might take away from your time on the job, be prepared to show how you will continue to perform your current tasks. From your manager's point of view, helping to improve your nontechnical skills won't do any good if you aren't there to fulfill your normal duties.

Ready to hit the books? Take a look at Robert Half's continuing professional education resources for an overview of accounting training options. If you're interested in improving your soft skills, find out how to make your own training plan.

Editor's note: This post was updated in 2016 to reflect more current information.

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