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Participating in Professional Associations

Participation in a Professional Association Pays Off

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Participating in Professional Associations

Thomas J. Denham, Careers in Transition

A membership in a professional association can often be an excellent source of employment information and job leads. Here is how membership in one can assist you with job hunting and your long-term career development:

1. Networking
The number one benefit of a membership in an association is networking. Participation in a national, state, regional or local chapter will open you up to additional contacts. Since members of the association are in your field of interest, they may be able to give you advice as well as leads on anticipated openings. Request a copy of the organization's roster or directory so you can tap into the hidden job market.

2. Professional Trends
You will also keep up-to-date on trends in the field through guest speakers, local and national conferences. Professional associations conduct research and analyze statistical information that enables professionals to function more efficiently and help to identify critical new directions. Membership in an association will give you a better sense of the hiring trends, qualification requirements, and salary ranges.

3. Attending Conferences
Nearly all trade associations have at least an annual meeting and some may have more frequent regional conferences that are effective forums for the exchange of information and for expanding your contact base. By registering early, you may save money and ensure your place at the conference. Make your reservations at the host hotel, since a hotel across the street will decrease your networking potential.

Some pre-convention planning and research will be a productive and efficient way to use your time. Review the program and select the attendees you would like to meet and carefully decide which speakers you must hear. When you network at a professional conference you are working on the "inside."

Arrive early on the first day of registration so you can meet as many attendees as possible, often in spontaneous situations. Pick up handouts and introduce yourself to presenters after their sessions, as well as exhibitors. Investigate promising contacts during lunch and dinner and sit next to someone you don't know; mingle at cocktail parties and hospitality suites.

Don't expect to leave the conference with a job offer in hand. However, bring plenty of business cards to pass out and collect from participants; be sure to follow up while you are still fresh in their minds by sending them a resume and then a phone call when you return home. Take some time to process and plan your next step after the convention.

4. Publications
With your membership you are typically entitled to receive the association's trade journal, newspaper, newsletter or magazine that covers that specific field in depth. This will help you keep up-to-date on what is going on in the industry and make you aware of the major players in its directory. Public and academic libraries will have these journals available for you to review if the subscription price is not feasible.

Directories and journals that associations publish are an excellent source of prospective job leads. Since the depth of coverage in a field can vary, be sure you are regularly reading more than one publication.

5. Job Listings
Many professional societies offer career services to their members. These services, which are often restricted to "members only," can include posting resumes, employer profiles, and early notice of job openings. The advantage of their job hotline is that you will have access to opportunities in your specialty, versus other sources that have jobs that don't interest you.

6. Product Discounts
At national and regional meetings, professional associations exhibit their products and services and are often staffed by employees of the organization or industry employers. Membership may also include inexpensive literature describing careers in that field. As a result, you may uncover and learn about alternative career options available to you.

7. Mentoring
A main goal and important activity of a typical association is the education and professional development of its members. If you are new to the field, seasoned professionals can serve as mentors and show you the ropes. You will also learn the professional standards of conduct expected in the field. Through in-house training, specialized workshops or continuing education courses, professional associations can help you stay on the cutting edge in your career field.

8. Building Your Resume
In the future, volunteering to help coordinate the next meeting is a visible way to demonstrate your commitment and abilities to others. Eventually you may want to join committees and take on a leadership role. The more active you are, the more people with whom you will come in contact. By taking on a leadership position, sooner or later you may win an award or publish articles that can be documented on your resume. In addition, serving on panel discussions or making presentations can also build your resume and background.

9. Being Selective
Every field has one or more professional associations. Ask around for advice on which are the most appropriate for your interests. Perhaps you need a local chapter as well as a national association to meet your needs. However, don't spread yourself too thin by joining all of them; it may be a waste of time and money. Get a clear sense of the mission, activities and time commitment involved in the association. Students can often obtain a membership at a reduced rate.

10. Asking Questions
Start with light conversation with other members and then bring up your job search. Remember you are looking to gain further information and add new contacts to your network. Here are some sample questions: Who are the major employers in the field? How can I get more involved in this field? Based on my resume, in what areas do I need to improve? Do you know someone else I might speak about pursuing a career in this field?

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