Before Pursuing That Higher Degree… Three Things to Consider, Pt. 4

In continuation from http://wp.me/p3aqKD-G.

Employer Recognition of Your New Degree

One of the benefits that most Fortune 500 companies offer to their employees is a tuition reimbursement plan.  This simply means that should you decide to return to school in order to obtain a degree, they will pay you back for your tuition expenses based on obtaining a certain grade level in the classes that you took.  While these programs do provide a financial break to you as the recipient, there are often strings attached.

Companies often determine what kind of degree you may obtain with their assistance based on a number of factors, some of which (but not necessarily all) are your current job duties and where the company sees you progressing in your career, realistically available roles in your company that you could move to upon completion of your degree as well as your current job performance rating.  For example, if you work in Marketing and Sales for a company that specializes in the marketing of small consumer electronics, don’t expect your company to rush to support you if you decide you would like to obtain a degree in TIG Welding.

Most often, you have to present a business case to cash in on this benefit and the company will definitely make sure that they obtain their money’s worth from you and your new degree.  Expect to sign a contract stating that upon completion of your degree, you will have to remain with the company for a certain amount of time or be forced to repay any monies given to you for your advanced educational pursuit.  These types of clauses can be commonly referred to as “golden handcuffs”.  Do not expect to schedule classes during the work day or complete class work on company time; this is your choice in your work-life balance equation, not theirs.  If your company does not offer tuition assistance, be prepared to foot the whole monetary cost of returning to school.  Again, do not expect to conduct your personal business on company time.

The benefit of obtaining a degree may outweigh any personal time you may lose to maintain full-time employment while going to school part-time or full-time on the side.  Statistics show dramatic earning potential increases between people with higher education degrees in comparison to people without higher degrees.  It really depends on an individual’s personal situation.  Some companies do offer a leave of absence clause to employees so that they can focus on personal matters.  While this does not guarantee that you will resume employment with the company, it does leave the door open for you to return either in the same role or a different role within the organization.

 Planning in the pursuit of additional education is very important, almost more so when you already hold full-time employment that you would like to maintain while obtaining your degree.  No matter the route that you take to finance your studies, plan out your end game.  Seriously consider what you would like to do with your new degree and how you will get there because the sacrifice you are about to embark upon needs to be rewarded at the end of your journey.

Realize that employers are not necessarily required to recognize your new educational status with promotions, bonuses or raises.  You were hired into a certain role at a certain rate to begin with.  Just because you’ve increased your educational status does not equate to instant financial gratification in your current workplace.  Educate yourself as to your true options before signing anything or beginning your journey, especially if you are utilizing a tuition reimbursement plan.  Become your own ambassador or politician while in the pursuit of your degree.

If you know through interaction with co-workers, other departments, Human Resources or your direct management that chances may be slim to increase your status within the overall organization upon completion of a degree, be prepared to leave your current employer to seek more profitable options.  Profitable options may not necessarily have to coincide with monetary gain, it could be a lateral move in order to progress your career by accepting a role elsewhere with progression opportunities that you wouldn’t have by staying with your current employer.

 Stop the press…  Did I mean to say that you needed to become your own ambassador or politician?  Yes, I did.  Anything dealing with your performance, direction in the company or financial standing within a company requires you to have the right political mindset.  If you are either unwilling or unable to move forward in a direction that is comfortable for you, politics often come to bear.  There has to be a basic reason that you are seeking further education that will potentially affect your ability to perform in the workplace.  For most people, it is financial and not necessarily a lifelong personal development goal that they have longed to complete.

 Develop your personal mission statement and move forward with that statement in mind.  Do not be afraid to explore your options within your workplace.  Everyone you speak with concerning advancing your education becomes a possible aide to your cause.  If your employer has a lack luster response to your plans, either come up with a different plan of attack or realize that there may come a time when personal change is necessary.  Co-workers can be a great resource for general support and grapevine news, however, the people you most need to impress are your managers and depending upon the organizational structure, your Human Resources Representative.  Those are the people that can affect change in your current circumstance.

If your performance ratings have taken a slide in recent years, dig down through a root cause analysis to understand why.  Is it you or is it your management?  Do not allow your lack of ambition in this area determine your overall success.  If you find that you are being overlooked for promotions that you know you are qualified for, dig down to understand where your perceived weaknesses and strengths lie and address those issues in perception.  Do not be afraid to stretch yourself outside of your normal box and be confident enough to ask questions when appropriate.  Educational level may be one of the factors keeping you where you are, outright ability to perform may be another or a lack of challenging assignments to prove your abilities can be one as well.  More often than not, your networking abilities may be the cause.  We’ve all heard the phrase, it’s not what you know, but who you know that can make a difference.  That is a politicking statement in the purest sense.

 Recap:

  1. Determine your financing options for your degree and know what your tradeoffs will be to maintain employment while pursuing your degree.
  2. Explore the options available through your current employer for advancement after obtaining your degree.  You may decide to take a leave of absence or leave entirely in order to complete your educational goal.
  3. You are your greatest resource; no one knows your potential better than you do.  Develop a personal mission statement that you can get behind to promote yourself.
  4. Be in the know before you are known because inside knowledge about your employer can impact your personal progress.  As one of my networking contacts says often, nothing beats a great network.
  5. Mostly, if obtaining a higher degree is what you want to do, go into it knowing that change may be necessary to maximize your new educational status.
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