Career Advice Tuesday – “Making The Case For Conference Attendance”
March 2, 2010
I believe that attending information security conferences is an important part of my career development. I see a tremendous value in attending conferences both for myself and for my employer. My problem is that my employer does not believe that attending these events are a valuable use of my time, and he refuses to allocate any additional monies or time for my attendance. I have tried many times to state my case and demonstrate the value of these conferences but these attempts have been quickly dismissed.
The RSA Conference is approaching and I would like to attend. It has been three years since I last attended ( the year before I started my new position) and I would really like to go this year.
Do you have any advice on how I can get there?
“Do You Know The Way To RSA”
Dear “Do You Know The Way”:
I am not sure if this advice is going to be helpful for this year’s event, but maybe it can help you get permission to attend future events.
From the situation that you have presented there are a couple of things that are apparent to me: first your boss is a not a fan of conferences and he believes that they are not a good use of time, the second is that you have not done a very good job of articulating and explaining the return on investment in terms that he can endorse and appreciate.
I would first accept the fact that you are most likely not going to change your boss’ mind about the value of conferences (his opinion on conference attendance was probably formed long before he met you), but you may be able to pick and choose your battles and zero in on a select conference to make your case.
In order to do this, I think that you have to understand that there are two potential costs to your employer: the cost for conference attendance (the conference, travel, meals, etc.) and the cost of you not being available that week ( your salary). The first thing that I would do is to determine exactly what this value is (in dollars). When you come up with that number, your job is to demonstrate to your boss how by allowing you to attend, they will be able to recoup that investment. You are going to have to be creative in your approach but I would focus on three areas: knowledge acquisition and transfer, cost/time savings, and retention.
Here are a few ideas on how to articulate this:
Knowledge - you should first demonstrate to your boss the specific knowledge that you are hoping to learn at the conference and illustrate to him how what you learn will enable you address issues that your internal security team is facing. In addition, you can also outline how you will share this information with your other team members as a regular work activity. This can take the form of a “lunch and learn” session where you lead discussions with your information security co-workers. By sharing this information with others, you can make the argument that the cost should actually be divided by the number of all team members. Also, when you lead these sessions, you will be developing your business communication and presentation skills.
Cost Savings – You have to think of how your attendance will save your manager money and time. One of the things you can do is use the time to meet with vendors and to provide a report upon your return of any products that you may be evaluating for corporate use. This will need to be detailed so that your manager will be able to utilize the information to make better purchasing decisions. If you think about how much time it would take your boss to attend all of these meetings, it may be easy to justify.
Employee Retention: This may be your most valuable weapon, however it can also be the most deadly. I think that if you tell your boss that you consider attending conferences as part of your professional development and an element of job satisfaction. You can also inform your boss that your peers at other companies are allowed to attend one conference a year, and you are hoping for the same benefit. In bringing up your peers and policies of their employers, you may want to be careful and tactful in your approach, because your boss may believe that this is an attempt at conference by extortion, However, if you do this in a respectful manner, your boss may look at this as a cost effective way to retain your service and keep you happy in your role.
Although these are many ways that could be helpful to you to gain approval, my best piece of advice would be to fund your conference attendance out of your own pocket and take the necessary vacation if you really want to attend. Since we can no longer count on our employers to fund our career development, we have to take the matter into our own hands. Ultimately you will benefit. It is also great to not have any strings attached to an aspect of your professional development.
In closing, it is quite possible that if you demonstrate to your boss that you are willing to fund this effort yourself and use your personal vacation time, your conviction will serve as an illustration of the importance of conference attendance. After they witness your resolve, maybe they will surprise you and reimburse you somewhat for your efforts.
Hope to see you at RSA in 2011!
Mike and Lee