How to travel on your boss’s dime (while improving your organization)

Conferences let you see the world while learning valuable skills and making connections.

October 21, 2014


Vacations are wonderful, but, alas, you’ve got to shell out money to take them. But there is a way to travel and let your company foot the bill—while ramping up your career along the way. Going to conferences lets you travel the country, and sometimes internationally, while acquiring skills and knowledge that can make you a more valuable asset to your employer.

Socialize your way to success

Conferences are a great way to earn CPE credits, learn technical and leadership skills, and be inspired by leaders in the accounting profession. But the people you meet at a conference may prove just as important to your career as the workshops or sessions you attend.

At conferences, including those offered by state societies and the AICPA, you can meet CPAs from around the country and expand your network nationwide. Taking part in social events such as lunches, receptions, and small group sessions can make it easy to socialize.

“People really open up when they’re away from their spreadsheets for a few days,” said Bobby Schroeder, CPA, tax manager at Ericksen, Krentel & LaPorte. “They meet like-minded people and make lifelong connections.”

The CPAs you meet at conferences can become valuable resources. “I reach out to people I’ve met at conferences when I have professional questions,” Schroeder said. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable asking them these things if I hadn’t gotten to know them in person.”

And the bonds you build at these events can last long after the last session ends. Rachael Sarson, CPA, manager at Craighead, Lange and Hough PC, said she became accountability partners with friends she met during a recent conference. “We text one another weekly to update each other on our goals,” she said.

Going to a conference can also help you renew your enthusiasm for the profession. Conferences can “open up your professional world,” said Amy Cooper, CPA, an accounting instructor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, “because you’ll discover there are hundreds of thousands of CPAs out there doing exciting things.”

Becoming a veteran conference-goer can even motivate you to achieve more, said Sarson, “because you know you’ll see the same people year after year, and you’ll want to tell them what you accomplished since the last conference.”

Bring knowledge and skills back to your employer

But you’re not the only one who benefits from attending professional gatherings. You’ll learn skills and knowledge that will make you a more valuable employee. By sharing what you learn with co-workers and clients, your employer will reap the rewards as well. When Sarson returns from a conference, for example, she holds lunch-and-learn sessions for internal staff where she presents some of the tips and tools from topics she learned.

“Firms that are willing to pay for you to attend a conference are usually willing to listen to what you learned upon your return,” said Schroeder.

How to convince your bosses

Conferences can be expensive to attend. Registration fees alone can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, and that’s not counting flights, hotel rooms, ground transportation, meals, and materials. When travel budgets are tight, organizations may be reluctant to pay for junior staff members to attend. Here are some ways to help defray costs:

  • Offer to pay some of the expenses yourself, such as your plane ticket, and suggest that the company pay for your learning hours.
  • Make a business case for going. Mention the sessions you want to attend, and tie them in with your employer’s goals. If your company is worried about succession planning, for instance, demonstrate how the training will develop your leadership skills.
  • Speak at the conference or serve on the planning committee. If you are selected for those types of activities, the sponsoring organization may reward you with free registration or cover other costs.
  • Attend virtually. Many conferences are available online. Though you’ll still have to pay to register, you’ll save on travel expenses.

If your company does offer to pay for some or all of your expenses, be sure to repay them by participating fully in the conference, said Cooper. “Be engaged and involved,” she suggested. “Get outside your comfort zone—that can be difficult, but it’s also rewarding.”

Courtney Vien is an associate editor with the AICPA Magazines & Newsletters team.

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