Completing a distance qualification while working full time can easily become more work than you can handle.
And sometimes you just need to ask for time, space or understanding to support your goals, whether that’s at home, at work or with your friends.
Here are some top tips to help you ask for what you deserve.
Know how to manage your time
A qualification is a benefit to you but also your company. Many companies may have a formal process in place to support training, others have more casual arrangements. Either way, it’s important that you communicate with your manager and your team about the support that you need to deliver quality work while studying. This might mean asking for changes to your work schedule such as compressed hours, remote working, flexible hours and days off for assessments.
When you’re making a request for this type of support, plan ahead by identifying any concerns your manager may have and have a solution for each. This will help to reassure your manager that you have thoughtfully prepared for your change in circumstance.
Know exactly what you want
Whatever you decide to ask from your employers, make sure you phrase your request in specific terms. Doesn’t ‘I would like to work at home for a total of 10 hours per week’ sound much better than ‘I’d like to do flexible working?’.
It’s also important to leave room for negotiation. Your employer might find it most convenient for you to spend your 10 hours at home over the course of two working days, or they might prefer you to spend half the day at the office and then leave early to go and study.
Be ready to make compromises, but remember that you need this time to study, and having it means rewards for you and your company.
Putting it all together
Here’s a handy template for having these tricky conversations with your manager.
Begin with a strong argument
The first and most important step in any negotiation is to be confident. Start with a strong opening line that outlines your request and your reasons for making it. Here are a couple of suggestions:
‘I need to dedicate more time towards my study, and I believe the best way to do this is by spending one day a week working from home.’
‘We need to adjust my schedule to better accommodate the time I spend working on my qualification.’
If they say…
‘How are you going to keep up with your work?’
Now is the time to pull out a draft timetable and explain how you plan to manage the balance between work and study. Point out how much of your free time you’re already using to study so that your employers know that you’re making sacrifices too.
‘What if we need to get your input on a project, and you’re not here?’
Your company is probably already familiar with the different communication technologies out there, but it doesn’t hurt to remind them that in this day and age, you’re never more than a Skype call away. Reassure them that in an emergency scenario you’ll be ready and willing to step back into the office.
‘Shouldn’t you have thought about this before you started the qualification?’
If things get heated, it’s important to take a step back and breathe. Say something like, ‘I’m confident that we’ll find a solution that will work for both of us’ and get back to making your points. A good response to a tricky question like this is to remind your manager that your qualification will directly benefit the company once it’s complete, and that your flexible working is only a temporary measure.
Be polite, but firm
Set yourself a hard limit and stick to it. If your manager really can’t stretch, make sure you keep the discussion open by saying ‘Well, how about…’ It’s almost always possible to come to a favourable compromise in the end.
Be quietly confident
Always remember: you aren’t asking for anything you don’t deserve. You’ve done the maths, you’ve considered your options, and by the time you approach your manager you should be confident that what you’re asking for is not only reasonable, but offers benefits all round.
Talk to friends and family
Of course, spending time with the people you love isn’t as taxing as a full-time job. However, it can be just as difficult to ask for a break at home as it can at work. If you’re working flexibly from home, your partner or family might not understand that your new schedule is to help you work, not spend more time running errands or managing the house. Your friends might have trouble understanding why you can’t hang out every night despite leaving the office early.
Make sure that your friends and family understand the importance of your qualification. Remind them that a little time spent working hard now will equal huge benefits for you in the future, and that by giving you a little time, you’ll find it easier to succeed and, ultimately, make them proud!
Don’t forget that there are ways to incorporate bonding time into learning time too. Ask your partner or roommates to test your knowledge of the course, and be ready to talk to them about what you’ve been learning. A supportive friend will be happy to hear that you’re improving your prospects.
Here are some of the key reasons we struggle to ask for help and ways to overcome them.
1. We think we’re a burden
We might think we’re taking time or energy from someone else by asking for help. The reality is most people enjoy helping others and actually get a positive reward themselves, feeling connected to others and feeling good about contributing. Imagine if someone asked you for help. Would you consider them a burden? The chances are likely no. The best way to ask someone for help is to be specific with your request. Let them know exactly how they can help you, for example asking your family not to interrupt you between 10am-12pm on Saturday morning so you can study.
2. We look weak
It’s easy to feel that asking for help shows a sign of weakness – that we’re incompetent or have failed in some way. The best way to overcome this thought is to take on a beginner’s mindset. As a beginner, the possibilities are endless because you have nothing to prove. With no set expectations for yourself, you can be as creative and curious as you need to be to solve a problem. Ultimately a beginner always wants to improve, which is a powerful place from which to approach a problem. A beginner will ask for help because they are motivated to grow and learn, and without any expectation, they should already know the answer. How liberating is that?
3. We don’t want to be rejected
Reaching out and asking for help requires a certain level of vulnerability. If you’ve experienced someone saying no to you in the past, then it’s normal for this fear to arise. Recognise that what happened in that situation has no bearing on this one, and that the reasons for the rejection were most likely to do with that person rather than yourself. Anyone that has ever been successful has had to rely on others in some way to reach the finish line. Asking for help shows strength and is a smart way to get to where you’re going faster.
Check out the AAT 2017 Salary and Career Survey. It’ll tell you how money you could expect to earn with an AAT qualification on your CV across different industries, roles and experience levels.
Lauren Razavi is an award-winning writer and content strategist, and managing director of communications consultancy Flibl. She has worked on projects for leading global brands such as NatWest, Google and Facebook, and her writing focuses on technology, finance, entrepreneurship and innovation. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenRazavi.