Who's going to pay for your next certification? Ask the boss.In the era of computer technology, every company is reliant on technology for most (if not all) aspects of their operations. Because day-to-day activities as well as strategic decisions are supported with computer-induced information, it is extremely important for companies to maintain strong, efficient and integrated IT systems.

These important IT systems need employees, of course, who are rightly qualified and skilled. The job profile of an IT employee includes maintaining computer and network systems, installing and configuring components, diagnosing software and hardware issues, and resolving technical and application problems.

Training an IT professional, however, isn’t a one-and-done proposition. They need to stay abreast of updates, changes and innovations. And staying abreast of current happenings in the field requires diligence and regular training. Unfortunately, such training is expensive, and like most people, IT pros are always looking for a way to save a few rupees.

There are a number of methods to obtain training at a discount, including using vouchers, taking advantage of seasonal sales, and watching for two-for-one offerings. Sometimes, however, there is just no avoiding having to come up with the money for a certification course. When this happens it is time to brace up and do something most employees aren’t comfortable doing: Ask your boss to foot the bill.

Prying open the company wallet isn’t always easy. There is always competition for limited funds and one has to have a plan for approaching the boss and explaining why he (or she) should pick up the tab.  Below are seven steps to help you convince the boss to pay for your training.

Step 1: Plan your attack

Begin by asking yourself a few questions. Why do you want the certification? Do you really need it? How will it help you do your job better? What are the benefits to the company? It’s important to answer these questions honestly and thoroughly. Doing so will help get your thoughts focused, and show the boss that this isn’t just a whim, but that you have seriously thought it through.

To support your answers, conduct a bit of industry research. Find out how the certification is helping other IT pros and their companies. Also, be sure to arm yourself with the current information on costs, training format (self-study or instructor led), and duration of training.

Step 2: Self-evaluation

Are you worth the additional investment in money and possibly time away from the job? A good way to understand how the company views you and your contribution is to look back at your latest performance evaluation. Was it a glowing review? Did you receive a raise or bonus? Can you point to recent projects that show your outstanding performance?

If the answers to the three questions above are “Yes,” then it is likely that your request will be received favorably. If “No,” then you may want to bear down and improve your performance over time before asking. Remember, bosses like to feed their stars — be a star employee.

Step 3: Consider your employer’s point of view

Your needs and wants are only part of the equation here. The needs of your boss and company are paramount. While they may not have a problem paying for an exam or course, if it fits the budget, they may not be able to spare you away from the office. Not being available for a week or longer can create an excessive burden on co-workers and meeting office goals.

Be prepared to explain that this isn’t time lost, but an investment in building the company. Be clear on what you’re asking and what it will cost the company to support you.

Step 4: Practice

Once you have the questions, costs and benefits clear in your mind, practice asking your boss by working with a close friend or coworker who will ask probing questions and isn’t afraid to poke holes in your argument. Your goal is to present the request in a thorough and thoughtful manner, being ready to answer difficult questions while clearly explaining the costs and benefits of obtaining the certification.

Practice until you are confident and don’t hesitate to make any needed changes before sitting down with the boss.

Step 5: You’re doing it for them

Focusing too much on why you want a certification can cause a boss to wonder if you have the best interests of the company at heart. Because bosses like to know that their efforts will result in a positive effect for the company, it’s important that you focus on how you possessing a certification will help the company meet its goals.

One way is to show how the certification can lead to increased business. A company that has employees with proper certificates will induce clients to believe the company can provide top quality service. This will ensure greater confidence in clients regarding the products and services of the company.

Explain that acquiring a certification from a respected outside vendor means you will be trained to comply with industry standards, laws, and innovations. Assure your boss that management can rely on you to adhere to those standards, and that doing so will lead to greater productivity and happier customers.

Also point out potential savings — instead of hiring new employees, or expensive outside consultants, the company can turn to you to take on more responsibility and get the job done quicker. You can also train other employees working in the same domain.

Step 6: Timing is everything

Who's going to pay for your next certification? Ask the boss.Select the best time to pitch the boss. Be careful. Doing so after a particularly good performance review or a profitable quarter is always better than following up an announcement of cost-cutting or layoffs.

I suggest you do it first in an e-mail. Bringing the request up in person can surprise your boss and lead to rejection via an unambiguous response like “Let me think about it.” Approaching the boss first in an e-mail and following up later in person gives you two opportunities to receive approval and enable you to bring additional information as needed.

Step 7: Pitch away

If you’ve followed the previous six steps you will be well prepared and confident to present your request. They say that “luck” is when opportunity meets preparation. By being prepared you can meet objections, answer questions and more likely, receive approval.

Stay the course

Be mindful, at all times, of the need to be flexible. Often half of a loaf is better than none at all. There are numerous limitations from financial budgets to time constraints. You may not get the high-end course that takes you out of the office to a really cool location, but instead receive permission for a self-study course that provides the same training and information.

Companies are increasingly recognizing the value of regular IT training. They know that employees enjoy improving their skillsets and typically value a company that supports them in their training. This is the time to ask, they are more likely now than ever before to approve and pay for training.

Be prepared, be confident and good luck.