Negotiating Company Sponsorship for MBA Programs

Asking for employer sponsorship to an executive MBA program isn’t always easy to do. Many companies don’t have a formal tuition reimbursement program in place, or the policy is limited. During a recent online chat, Wharton Prof. Peter Cappelli, director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources, shared a few tips for applicants about how to discuss this important topic with employers.

 

Who do you ask?

How do you begin the process? First, think about who you will talk to. A common problem in asking for employer sponsorship is that the person you plan to talk to isn’t high enough up in organization to make the decision about sponsorship. If that is the case, then ask if you think they are on your side. If they’re not an advocate for you, then try to talk to the person who can make the decision. However, if they are an advocate for you, then it might be better for them to make the case on your behalf.

Use Persuasion

Once you identify who to talk to, try to persuade them that they should help support your decision to go to Wharton. Peer pressure can be helpful. If you can persuade them that other companies are paying for this – that it’s common practice in other similar types of organizations — they are more likely to say yes.

The more facts and evidence you can present, the more persuasive you can be. And if you have evidence within your own organization that your company has paid for this in the past, that is even more helpful. Also, think about reciprocity. What have you done for these folks in the past? You might remind them that you’ve been a loyal employee for a long time.

Highlight Benefits

When you negotiate, put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself how they will perceive your request. It’s typical for employers to think about sponsorship as something they are giving you as a benefit or perk. But you want them to see it as an investment they are making in the company, which plays out through you. You can reinforce this message by reminding them what you do for the company and how you will become a smarter, more informed employee as a result of your Wharton education.

Reinforce the Benefits

Another way to reinforce this message is to show how your education will help improve the company in other ways like with strategy or marketing. Perhaps the company was planning to hire a consultant in these areas, but if they send you to Wharton then you’ll learn about these areas and you can provide that service, allowing the company to avoid consulting fees. Also, you’ll be more effective than a consultant because you know much more about the company than a consultant ever would.

You also need to explain why they should pay for this investment by showing how you can be more effective in your current job. The person signing the tuition check is probably someone in your division who might not see the whole picture and how you in the future will be more valuable for the company. They want to see your ability to go back to your desk and payoff the investment. So you need to show that you’ll be better at your current job than before.

Address Concerns

Another thing to consider is employers’ concerns that they’ll make an investment in you and then you’ll leave. The argument here is that you have no intention to leave, but rather intend to do a bigger job in this organization to bring more value.  You’ll be even more engaged in the business as a result of knowing more about it at different levels.

Navigate around Policies

It’s common for companies to respond that they have a policy that only covers a specific amount or nothing at all. You’ll need to find out in detail what the policy says and then find out who sets the policy because usually there are exceptions to it. For example, does the policy say that the company won’t invest in training or employee development? Even if the company doesn’t have a formal policy to pay for tuition, Wharton’s EMBA program is a way to improve skills and provide development.

Peter Cappelli is the George W. Taylor Professor of Management and director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources

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