Should You Join A Professional Organization?
Professional associations offer many career benefits. While networking and keeping you up-to-date with trends in your field are probably the most obvious, other, equally valuable, advantages can include access to group insurance programs and discounts for legal advice and other professional services.
Because cost can sometimes be a factor in deciding which group to join, research and compare the offerings of several. How often do they meet? Do they publish newsletters? Do they have a job board? Do they offer professional classes and seminars? Do they participate in regional and national conferences? Is their membership of a sufficient size to provide a range of expertise? Are employers represented? Are members active? Are they long-term members or is there high turnover? The answers to these questions can help you decide which membership(s) will best match your career goals and be worth the cost.
Once you’ve joined an organization you can leverage your membership in many ways. For example, set the goal of meeting three new contacts in your field at the next conference or make yourself meet a contact in a company you’re interested in. Bring your business cards, and don't be shy. Remember, others at the gathering are probably as nervous as you are. If you concentrate on making them feel at ease, you'll be less concerned with your own discomfort.
Deeper involvement in an organization can bring even greater rewards. Serving on a committee or volunteering to help with an event or conference will build a closer relationship with other members. Offering to make a presentation at a meeting or write an article for the association's newsletter are great ways to show off your expertise. And serving as an officer in the organization can be a terrific way to fine-tune management skills. Remember, too, that these activities will look great on your résumé.
There are thousands of national and international professional organizations, so spend some time on the Internet to identify which will best meet your needs. Some cater specifically to men, such as The American Men's Studies Association, or women, such as the National Association of Professional Women. The Internet’s extensive search capabilities can help you find an association in your area and in your area of interest. Just key in the word 'association' and the location and/or profession you want.
In addition to professional associations, there are other organizations that can be valuable to your career, including alumni associations, such as HSF’s Alumni Network, as well as religious, sports, trade, arts, and hobby associations. These can connect you to people who share your interests in a more relaxed setting. Although not specifically career-oriented, these groups can be valuable for practicing your networking skills.
However, becoming active in a professional organization can provide unique opportunities to advance your career. You’ll maintain important connections in your field, learn about important trends in your industry, and discover what other companies in your field are doing. You’ll also be given the opportunity to hone your management skills, demonstrate your leadership capabilities, and show off your presentation and writing talents.
Maybe it’s time to find the professional association that's right for you.