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Expert how-to advice on upgrading your business cred

Find out how to ask permission to go back to school, network efficiently, survive a dull meeting and more

How to ask permission to go back to school

Earning an executive MBA can take your career to the next level. But you can't just blurt that out to your boss and start back-to-school shopping. You need a game plan. Tara Talbot, vice-president of human resources at Workopolis (who, by the way, once persuaded an employer to let her pursue an EMBA), shares her winning strategy.
/Dave McGinn

Lay the groundwork: You could tell your manager you want to get an EMBA and school starts in two months, or you could show the boss you actually take the proposal seriously. Go for the slow rollout. Raise the issue in performance reviews and other career conversations. A year or two down the road, managers will know you're committed. "Plant some seeds over time," Talbot says.

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Make the business case: Get a sense of how the company is doing financially. "Did they just do layoffs, or are they not meeting their numbers, or are budgets tight? Is this really a good time to be asking for a big outlay of money?" cautions Talbot. If the company has money to spend, explain what's in it for them. Don't make it all about you–Talbot says that's a huge mistake.

Declare your loyalty: Many companies will have loyalty agreements to ensure you don't jump ship for a better gig somewhere else the minute you get your diploma. If yours doesn't, offer to sign one anyhow, if only to assuage the boss's jitters. "That's one of the things you need to be prepared to offer up," Talbot says.

Put some skin in the game: It would be great if the company paid your full tuition. Yeah, and it would also be great if they flew you around in a helicopter filled with champagne and chocolate. Be prepared to negotiate everything from offering to pay a portion of the tuition to taking unpaid leave. "If your ideal state is a full ride, that's great. But what's plan B? What's plan C? You need to be willing to be flexible. If you're only committed to it if the boss is paying 100 per cent, that's maybe not as committed as I'm looking for," Talbot says.

Don't keep in touch: Once you're in a program, you might be tempted to send the boss updates on all the great things you're learning. Don't bother. "People are happy if you're happy," says Talbot. "But they don't really care."

How to survive a dressing-down from the boss

DO: "Try to process what they're saying," says Alan Bernstein, co-author of Mastering the Art of Quitting. "Demonstrate that you're interested in the feedback and are able to use it constructively. It's a tall order."

DON'T: Get your back up and try to defend yourself. "Later on, if you're feeling more comfortable with him, you can say it was a wake-up call or frame it in a way that makes him feel like you're useful," says Bernstein. "But I would definitely not go into a hurt-puppy position."

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How to network efficiently

You're at your first big industry conference. Politeness demands at least some chit-chat, but how much is too much?
/John Daly

8 minutes: University professor Has that valuable big-picture perspective, but beware of ideologues with untended facial hair who rarely get out in the real world

6 minutes: Presenter from a multinational consultancy Probably has a whack of industry insight, but will probe you subtly–or blatantly–for leads at your company whom she can pitch for a contract

5 minutes: Gung-ho new IT provider One of the nerds wandering around in New Balance sneakers may indeed have developed a killer mobile app, but which nerd?

3 minutes: Personal makeover specialist Are you sure you don't look or sound like a loser? Are you really sure?

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2 minutes: Head of the wait staff Often a great source of gossip–like who's most likely to get very boisterous at the 5:30 cocktail "mixer"

30 seconds: High-priced featured speaker If it's someone who's genuinely brilliant, like Bill Clinton or Niall Ferguson, you won't get more than an instant for a selfie. If it's someone über-cheesy, like Donald Trump, you won't want one

How to survive a dull meeting

Before you have to listen to yet another less-than-riveting PowerPoint presentation from Steve in marketing, take five. In a 2011 study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, researchers were examining drops in a person's "attentional resources" and found that taking a break of just a few minutes helped them focus on a given task. Those who didn't take breaks became mouth-breathing idiots. Okay, maybe not that bad, but still–you have to be sharp in case the boss wants your opinion. Besides, you deserve a break.

How to get work done on your iPad

Slack: The death of e-mail in the workplace is nigh, and geek-friendly networking app Slack is swinging the scythe. But you don't need to work in Silicon Valley to appreciate Slack's intuitive channel set-up, simple file sharing and parallel private messaging network. (free)

Evernote: It's not new, but for as long as people persist in taking notes on actual paper (what, did Staples run out of stone tablets?), we'll spread the word about this addictive little app. Type or dictate your notes to the cloud and retrieve them on any device. And use the handy "web clipper" plug-in to bookmark websites on the fly. (free; $45, premium one-year subscription)

Avocado: You might not think an app designed to keep you and your partner in touch–through calendar syncing, lists, photos and a just-the-two-of-us chat channel–is productivity-related. That is, unless you've ever tried to balance work and a healthy relationship. The "hugs" and "kisses" features are decidedly optional. (free; $15, full-version one-year subscription)
/Dave Morris

How to survive the company golf tournament

Don't let the fact that you've never played golf stop you from hitting the links. Sean Casey, director of instruction at Glen Abbey's golf academy, tells newbies everything they need to know.
/Dave McGinn

No dawdling: Everyone will understand if you stink–but no one will forgive you if you take forever doing it. "That's got to be number one," says Casey. "You can have a fun day even if someone in your group hits the ball terribly. As long as you don't slow the group down, it'll go unnoticed."

Shhhhh!: Do you want colleagues to shoot you laser-beam death eyes? Well then, go ahead and talk during their backswing. "Keep the talk for the cart," says Casey. "Don't be a distraction."

No hissy fits: It's a hard, often brutally frustrating game. But don't have a big sucky over it. Whining and throwing clubs ruins the day for the rest of your group. Besides, you don't want colleagues to think this is how you deal with adversity.

Take a lesson: "If the tournament is a month away, schedule one lesson a week to build your skills," Casey says. In business, so in golf–preparing for a challenge isn't the dumbest thing you can do.

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About the Authors

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

Editor, Globe Unlimited (Business)

Dave Morris joined the Globe and Mail in 2010 as Associate Editor of Report on Business Magazine. Born in St. John's, he graduated from Princeton University in 2003 and has written for publications including The Walrus and Maisonneuve. He has been nominated twice for Canada's National Magazine Awards. More


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