Pros and Cons of Some Career Advancement Tools!

As a career coach I often get queries from my clients and passer-byes (at social events and parties) about available resources to advance their careers. This often happens with midcareer professionals who realize that they are missing something in their tool kit of skills to get to the next level. Sometimes this is prompted by the Annual Performance Review (APR) that identifies some deficiencies in their performance and with recommendations for remedying those with in-house training, outside courses, coaching, and even a paid MBA program. Sometimes, too, clients take this as a license to sign-up for an expensive course(s) from prestigious universities on their own to augment their résumé and to impress their boss about how seriously they take these recommendations to keep their skills in tip-top shape and to burnish their résumé.

Recently, I got a query from one of my clients who came across a six-day course at Stanford on Negotiating & Influencing and felt that this course would help her improve her leadership skills when working with internal teams as she is faced with negotiating with various functional areas, including product management, program management, Dev. teams, and other functional areas.

In her role at a payment-technology company she is responsible for multiple programs that deliver different product features with a release timeline, and, because of the constant flux that drive these releases, negotiating priorities and changes are critical to her success in how she is measured. The price tag for this weeklong course at the prestigious Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) was in five figures, which she was willing to pay on her own.

Her question: was it worth the price, trouble, and its benefits?


So, rather than providing a binary Yes, No answer to this or similar questions with different variables that flow my way frequently let me offer my perspective on the ground reality of pursuing such paths to improve your career, résumé, and available opportunities for growth:

The Positive

1. Any resources to improve your skills, knowledge, and experience are a boon to your career if they are directly connected to how your career and job require what these resources offer you.
2. Taking a relevant course from a top academic institution shows that you are keen on improving yourself in your area of activity and if you pursue this on your own you get some recognition for your own initiative.
3. Mid-career professionals (your peers), most of whom come from general management background or sales/marketing participate in such courses (just look at the participant demographic the school provides in its promos). So, in classroom discussions you get a rich interchange from those who have experienced the material to be covered in the classroom from their real-life encounters. Some participants will also be senior executives, so you get exposure to how they present their ideas and how they communicate at their level. This can be a good way to learn communication/ presentation/executive presence skills as a bonus for attending such programs.
4. In a typical class of 30-50 participants you have many executives from various countries attending such courses. This way you get exposure to how different cultures behave in their interactions with other cultures, which can be a valuable insight.
5. Part of the content is sharing your real-life experiences in your roles as different topics are presented. This is a great way to understand that your problems are not unique to you, but are common across most of the situations modulated by individual cultural and company values.
6. Because you are there to learn—rather than to perform—you get out of your comfort zone and see how you can navigate through challenging situations without any jeopardy to your agenda. This can be a problem at work and the constraints within your work group may prevent you from experimenting with such ideas, especially if you are not sure of their outcome; a great learning platform!
7. You’ll be networking with many executives across the globe and these relationships can help you in your career throughout your professional life and beyond.
8. If you have a burning challenge at work that relates to your course this is the best place to get highly prized opinions from seasoned executives and especially from the expert professor. You may come back with a whole new perspective on how to deal with your burning challenge at work and impress your peers/superiors.
9. You will walk away with some theoretical framework that can provide you with a more comprehensive approach to dealing with problems addressed by the course.
10. You’ll go home with up-to-date materials, books, and knowledge that will equip you to deal with challenging situations with a higher level of confidence.

The Negative
1. Most B-Schools do a GREAT job of marketing their expensive products. So, if you are after just the content to master there are more effective and less expensive ways of obtaining that content. Books, seminars, in-company training classes, MOOCs (from top universities), and Coursera offerings can be a good proxy at the fraction of the cost ($100 or so) if you are merely interested in the content and not the social part offered by brick-and-mortar courses.
2. Most of the professors tend to bring their academic grounding to the class content. The real experiential content comes from the participants. So, if you are going to rely more on the material coming from the instructor you may be disappointed in its practical applicability. You may be better off reading their books and articles, instead.
3. In addition to the cost of the session, which can be easily in five figures (six for an MBA) the time away from work is on your own. So, the total price you pay for such courses is much higher. Getting your employer to pay for the course often eliminates the need for time away from work on your own. It also looks better on your résumé.
4. Some learn better at a slower pace than the typically designed torrid pace during these intensive courses. So, learning at your own pace can be a better option, depending on your learning style.
5. If you do not have the urgent need at work for the content provided by the course, its short half-life period kicks in. Typically, in about a month you’ll resile back to your old ways if you do not apply what you learn and keep applying on a regular basis.
6. If, after taking a course, someone asks you in an interview: Tell me specifically how this course helped you improve your effectiveness in the areas of your work with examples, and if you do not have an example to present it may not be a positive response!
So, there is NO silver bullet as an answer to the question that prompted this blog. I welcome comments from readers, who have gone through this experience first-hand so that other readers can learn from their perspectives. So, I thank you for sharing them!

Good luck!

Begin the journey to your new career today.