Successful careers are built on a foundation that includes ongoing network growth and knowledge development.
Many organizations provide opportunities and support to meet these needs — especially professional associations and college alumni organizations — yet a surprising number of people don’t think to take advantage of them (until, perhaps, they’re looking for a job). Considering their immense value to career and personal brand development, these are missed opportunities!
The core mission of any professional association includes driving professional development and career advancement through events, information sharing (e.g., standards, best practices, regulations and research) and access to resources. In addition to those benefits, membership in a professional association facilitates networking to make new connections and develop meaningful relationships.
According to the American Society of Association Executives, there are 92,000+ professional and trade organizations in the US alone, growing annually by about 3.4%. With seemingly endless possibilities, how do you determine which organization is best for you?
Organizations differ in makeup; some focus on a specific industry, area of industry or job function, while others cover a single career stage (like young professionals or senior executives) or include all levels. One of the key things to seek out are groups where, among other things, you gain access to others whom you wouldn’t necessarily encounter every day. You’ll benefit from networking with a broad and varied group of people.
As there are a vast amount of professional associations, these are just a few examples of some great ones to consider: Financial Executives International, if you’re a CFO or senior level finance professional; American Marketing Association, if you’re involved in any aspect of marketing; Chamber of Digital Commerce, if you’re involved in cryptocurrency; Association for Corporate Council, if you’re an attorney in a private sector legal department; or, International Association of Privacy Professionals, if you’re involved in privacy protection.
Industry-specific organizations are beneficial too, and some include American Bankers Association,Paley Media Council (entertainment, media and technology industry executives), AIGA (Professional Association for Design), American Apparel & Footwear Association,IEEE(global organization for technology) and Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
In addition to providing a forum for like-minded professionals, these associations are great places to meet industry leaders and identify potential partners, vendors, resources and clients. The connections you make can come in handy when you’re looking for a new job or searching for talent.
For a boost when attending events, check out The Secret To Better Networking: How You Introduce Yourself.
Besides networking, enhancing your expertise and industry knowledge is necessary throughout your career as well. Professional associations can help you keep up with current issues, technology, research, regulations and best practices — as well as earning/maintaining certifications and licenses — all of which are vital to stay relevant and drive career progression.
Active engagement in a professional association provides the opportunity to strengthen your personal brand, increase visibility and develop/hone your executive presence. When more people and professional circles know about you (and your expertise and experience), you’re better positioned for job openings and board roles, as these connections may recommend you for an opportunity.
Involvement in professional associations also enables access to different types of exposure, including:
- Leadership: Lead a committee, special initiative or chair an event.
- Speaking Opportunities: Share your expertise by speaking at a event or participating on a panel.
- Mentoring: Serve as a mentor, find a mentor — or both.
- Content Contribution: Communicate your perspective through a newsletter article or blog post.
- Functional Area Exploration: Serve on a marketing, finance or fundraising committee and gain exposure to functional areas outside of your expertise.
To learn some of the benefits of board roles, check out Why A Board Position Is Great For Your Career.
On the heels of college graduations and alumni reunions everywhere, you can see the strong attachment people feel towards their alma mater. It’s no surprise then, that — bolstered by a common, shared experience (and a bit of nostalgia) — alumni want to help their fellow alumni.
Joining an alumni organization affiliated with your undergraduate and/or graduate institution is a great way to meet other people (and reconnect with old classmates) who have something in common with you from the start.
In addition to a general alumni association, many schools offer special groups and programming based on geographic region, schools within the college (i.e., School of Business), special interest groups (SIGs) or athletics affiliation. SIGs, which often exist at the local level, can cover specific industries, ethnic or cultural groups, recent graduates etc. They facilitate connections with fellow alumni — across career stages, industries and job functions — who live near you. These local connections can develop into business relationships and potential employment opportunities or help you find talent.
Like the gains from professional associations, alumni organizations open up leadership opportunities (like heading a committee or special initiative), access to a wide variety of speakers and speaking opportunities, professional development programming and events. Donating your time to an alumni association also provides a chance to give back and stay connected to an institution that was pivotal in your life. If you have interest in pursuing a board role, serving on an alumni-related board is a great place to begin, gaining experience and skills relevant for future opportunities.
For more on how giving back can help professional development, check out How Volunteering Helps Your Career.
Cultivating your network and pursuing professional development are critical to long-term career success. Professional organizations and alumni associations are two highly effective and beneficial resources to help you do so. If you haven’t been involved previously (or let your affiliation lapse), consider joining (or re-engaging) now.
Regardless of how happy and successful you are in your current job, always think ahead and proactively about how to move your career forward.