11 Ways a Professional Association Can Boost Your Career

You got the degree and landed the job. Maybe, though, your career seems stalled. Are you looking for a way to move up the corporate ladder, or out of a rut? If so, maybe it's time you joined a professional association.

What's the best thing about a professional association? Networking. And it's not stand-around-at-a-cocktail-party, trying-to-make-small-talk networking. Belonging to a professional association is like having an instant group of friends, with at least one similar interest: You all work in the same field.

So, what some other reasons should you join a professional association?

1. It's easy to find one

Either Google it (i.e., "pharmacist professional associations"), or use this handy professional association finder developed by the U.S. Department of Labor. A quick search will bring you results for organizations in your career field.

2. You can give back to your community

Especially appealing to millennials, an age group that wants their work to have meaning, are opportunities for giving back. Many professional associations have subgroups that pride themselves on charitable and community-building efforts.

You might find yourself speaking at an elementary school, helping with a trash pickup day, or fundraising for a good cause. My niece, an optometrist, participates in a professional association that raises funds for guide dogs for the blind. If your association doesn't already do good works, maybe you're the leader they need to start something.

3. It'll help beef up your resume

The more you can show a recruiter or interviewer that you're connected to your career, the better. Listing a professional association demonstrates your passion and drive, as well as your involvement in the field. Recruiters love data, and seeing something like, "Co-chaired auction that raised $5,000 for guide dog program" will definitely stand out. Similarly, you can use leadership roles in a professional association ("Treasurer, 2017–2018: Converted organization's record-keeping to QuickBooks") to illustrate your skills.

If your resume and cover letter skills need work, many associations also have a "career resources" page on their website for tips on formatting resumes and writing effective cover letters.

4. You'll boost your own technology skills

I was overwhelmed by social media until I began attending meetings of my local social media professional association. It helped me learn about the different platforms and what works best for me.

Millennials are the generation that has most embraced technology. If that's your age group, you may find that a professional association is a place to use those technology skills and keep learning new ones.

5. You'll make friends

Remember, you already have one thing in common with people who belong to your profession's association: You work in the same field. There may be others with whom you have common interests, and you may be able to build a social support group within your new circle. I found I enjoyed a walking group with members of my professional association, and am currently interested in another group that does healthy cooking potlucks. It's a great way to bring a fun, personal element into your professional life.

6. They can help you find a new, or better, job

I work in human resources, and regularly receive emails from the Society for Human Resource Management listing job opportunities. That is the same case with most other professional associations. Many of them have job boards or announcements where companies seeking new hires can list openings. You might even come across some positions that aren't being listed elsewhere.

7. Educational opportunities

Need continuing education credits, or just need to learn how to do something new? Check with your association. If they don't offer it themselves, they may able to direct you to a source that does. Discounts may also be available, which brings us to the next point.

8. Discounts

Looking for travel, health care, or educational discounts? Your association may have some available. In addition, you'll often find discounts on websites or tools pertinent to your career field. For example, the Society of Professional Journalists offers members a 20 percent discount on a subscription to the AP Stylebook.

9. You'll find great material for work

Yes, you'll be inundated with material to read, but don't just ignore those newsletters and notices. I squirrel away the daily emails and read them in batches; the magazines I take home and peruse in my leisure. That stuff can come in handy.

For instance, when my CEO recently said he thought our hiring process took too long, I could quote HR Magazine (April, 2017) in saying 28 days is the typical period of time between someone applying for a job and being hired ... but also that I'd look into ways we could shorten our process. In a competitive workplace, your association's reading and events will keep you ahead of the pack. Plus, let's face it — you'll sound more knowledgeable.

10. You can find, or be, a mentor

I found having a mentor to be extremely helpful in my career. Someone with vast experience in your field can give sound advice and help you stay motivated. Alternatively, you may be that experienced person for someone else, and it might be very rewarding for you to help a newbie. It can be a great thing to have a source outside of your own office to ask for advice.

11. Be active in your association

Sure, you can pay for the membership and do nothing, but that won't help your career much. Even if you're shy, taking on a small, manageable role in the association will help your career.

Still on the fence? Explore your professional association's website, talk to someone who belongs about benefits, or attend a class or meeting. Once you actually get your feet wet, you may be much more eager to dive in.

A few things to consider

While professional associations can be a great boon to your career, they also have a few downsides. The first being cost: Joining a professional association often comes with a membership fee, and these can be pricey. However, if you are required to join by your employer, or pitch the idea of joining to them, they may foot the bill for you. Another potential expense to consider are meetings, which are often held at restaurants or cafes.

Professional associations can also feel a little overwhelming at times, between the social media feeds, the association's newsletter, their calendar of events, and all the LinkedIn connections. For some organizations, there can be a deluge of information to read.

Career-wise, however, the pros of joining a professional association outweigh the cons. If you can find and afford to join one, it can be a wonderful way to advance your professional standing.

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