Whether you are asking for full financial support or just time off to attend Wharton’s EMBA program every other Friday, it’s important to thoughtfully approach sponsorship with your employer. During a recent Webinar on the topic, Prof. Peter Cappelli, who teaches Negotiations, and East Coast second-year student Adam Douberly, who is vice president at Glenmede Trust, shared advice on sponsorship. Read an edited version of the Webinar transcript here:
Q. What is the first step in seeking sponsorship from your employer?
Prof. Cappelli: Over time, the norms have changed. Employers are now more resistant to paying, and when they do pay, it’s not quite as much. So you have to make the case as to why they should sponsor you. That is always a good idea even if the employer has a policy to pay all or part of the tuition anyway. So first you need to figure out who you need to make the case to. In other words, who has the authority to make the decision? This isn’t always obvious because it’s often not your immediate supervisor.
Q. Why is the right person to approach often not your immediate supervisor?
Prof. Cappelli: As you grow and develop because of Wharton’s EMBA program, there is a good chance you will leave your immediate supervisor. And if your supervisor is the one paying for this, then they may not be interested in you leaving your job.
Q. Once you know who to talk to, what kinds of arguments are persuasive?
Prof. Cappelli: You could discuss why it will help the company for you to go to the program. A common explanation is that it will help you to become a more effective manager in the organization.
Another argument involves your ability to become more effective in your current job. You can show them things that you think the organization needs in areas like marketing or finance that you will become more aware of through the program.
Then there are fairness questions to address. Why does it make sense to give you this opportunity? You can point out what the organization has done before for other people, or what peer companies are sponsoring for their employees.
One of the riskiest arguments — and you hear this more on the West Coast than the East Coast — is about retention. On the West Coast, they are more sympathetic to this issue, but on the East Coast they sometimes get nervous if you hint that maybe you’re not locked into your organization for your entire career. But you can explain how this program will likely keep you at the company. For the next few years, you’ll work there because you’ll be in school. After graduation, you’ll stay because you’ll have more internal opportunities. You have to make the case that if you go to the EMBA program, then you are more likely to stay there long term.
Q. Adam – How did you approach sponsorship at your company?
Adam: I was at a point in my career where I knew the Wharton EMBA program was right for me not just because Philadelphia is my home, but because I believe it is the best EMBA program out there. I work for a 300-member organization, which brings with it challenges in soliciting sponsorship. I engaged early and often with many members of our senior management committee. I found that folks who had been through an MBA program tended to be supportive and helped me through the actual process of seeking sponsorship. Build your support as you go and ultimately you will get good direction from folks who want to see you succeed. I was successful, but it took time. It isn’t something that will happen easily or quickly.
Q. Do sponsorship levels ever change during the EMBA program?
Prof. Cappelli: It’s not uncommon for students to get permission to go to Wharton with some financial support and time off, but the negotiations often continue. Some people end up slightly better off than when they started because they get more support or more time off as they go along. The key is figuring out how to leverage your experience at Wharton to make arguments as to how you are contributing in important ways. And when retention issues come up, then companies are a little more interested in paying more to keep you. So even if you don’t get a great deal, it doesn’t mean you won’t get better deal a year from now.
Adam: I took on a stretch assignment right after I began the Wharton program and translated lessons from school to early wins at my company; many classmates have done the same thing and had success renegotiating levels of commitment. There also is a Sponsors’ Day that happens early in the program and that is a phenomenal opportunity to bring your employer in to see the wonderful things you are doing.
Q. How can applicants show employers that they will be more effective?
Prof. Cappelli: Think about your organization and the biggest, most memorable screw-up that happened, or a time when your immediate boss felt blindsided. For example, if you’re in healthcare and a new accounting system was put in place that messed things up, you can say how it would have been better if you had known how the accounting system worked and that is kind of thing you will learn here. You have to make it very concrete and think of actual problems you’ve seen where you could make a difference by going to Wharton’s executive MBA program.
To watch the full Webinar, click here.