Humans are social animals. We like to form groups and associations, and it’s no different when it comes to work. For centuries humans have formed guilds, fellowships, and other associations to advance professional knowledge, protect trade secrets, and aid their fellow workers. How those organizations work has changed as time marches on, but the basic principle of professionals looking out for one another endures. Generations of professionals have moved ahead thanks to these associations; the same could be true for you too.
What Is A Professional Association?
A professional association is a group that exists to support the interests of people working in a particular profession and to serve the common good. They may be national or international, and often have ties to educational institutions. Most professional associations elect leadership and require some form of membership dues.
There are four basic types of professional associations:
- Member-benefit professional associations: peer support networks that offer access to resources to help individual members succeed in their field.
- Designation-granting associations: organizations that offer a certification to help members establish themselves and further develop their training in the field.
- Certifying bodies: organizations that issue credentials to members who meet certain criteria.
- Professional regulatory bodies: these groups develop and maintain expectations of their industry by following state and federal guidelines and establishing licensing requirements for specific occupations.
Why You Should Join An Association
Joining an association is a commitment. There will be events to attend, meetings to be present for; it can be as time-consuming as any other after-work hobby or practice. It can be worth the effort: being part of a professional association is a great way to advance your career.
“Involvement with a professional association can be a way to give back both your time and knowledge to your community,” said Gina Pinch, Rio Salado Faculty Chair for Business, Management, and Public Administration.
Joining a professional association could:
- Offer up opportunities for networking and mentorship
- Help you stay up to date on developments in your field
- Provide training, certification, and/or skill development
- Learn about new job openings and opportunities for professional advancement
- Enhance your resume
On that last point: many associations offer up leadership training opportunities via joining committees and boards run by the association. The important aspects to keep in mind with these benefits is that you must be an active and involved member of your association to receive them. Simply joining an association isn’t enough to take full advantage of its career-empowering opportunities: you have to be willing to put in the time.
What To Know Before Joining An Association
The key to finding the best professional association for you is to set your expectations before you start looking. What do you hope to gain out of joining an association? What do you need to work on to further your goals as a professional? If you’re primarily looking for networking and relationship-building, certain associations may be a better fit versus if you’re looking to find a group that can help you up-skill.
You’ll also want to take time management into consideration. How much time are you able to dedicate to a group like this? Do you want to get involved in committees and do volunteer time, or are you more interested in a once or twice a month networking event?
How To Find An Association
There are professional associations for many industries. There are directories online that can help you do a big picture search of associations, but it often helps to get granular and search based on your specific interests. Don’t be afraid to follow word of mouth: if you already have a network, talk to people in your industry to see if they have any recommendations.
Another invaluable resource to consult are trade publications and newsletters. Oftentimes those are produced by professional associations, and will include notices and information on other professional groups that you should put on your radar. Other media like industry-specific podcasts and video series could also be helpful in this respect (especially if you research the backgrounds of their guests: their C.V.s could breadcrumb-trail you to a good association).
What To Look Out For
Professional associations have different requirements for joining. Some may stipulate that you possess certain credentials or are currently active in the field; others may be geared to newcomers to the industry or require a few years of experience to be eligible to join. Most of them may ask for some form of dues payment, either annually or monthly, as well as a commitment of your time.
You should treat joining a professional association with the same due diligence you apply toward a job hunt. Do your research, read online reviews (when available) of the association, talk to contacts who have firsthand knowledge of the group, and see the association’s connections. Are they affiliated with a local school or university? Connected to a larger national board? Do they have any kind of social media presence? What’s the association’s reputation among the industry at large? Do they have committees or boards that could provide you with leadership experience?
It also never hurts to check with your school. Some professional associations have ties to school clubs, adult education programs, and faculty. Talk to a Career Services counselor to find out if they can connect you with an association that aligns with your skills and interests. Students may also find a discounted rate to join an association while still obtaining a degree.
Can I Put My Association On My Resume?
Yes! Highlighting your experiences with a professional association is a great way to signal to hiring managers your motivation and your desire to stay sharp with developing professional trends. It can also highlight your management skills if you’ve been able to assume any leadership roles in your association.
Like so much resume writing, there isn’t an iron-clad rule on how to format this information. A good principle to follow is adding a Professional Development or Professional Affiliations section after your work experience to house this information. Use this section to succinctly describe what you’ve done or gotten out of the association: credentials/licenses, skill training, leadership experience, or just staying informed about what’s happening in your industry. You could also use this section to talk up any soft skills like communication, public speaking, or collaborations/group works that you’ve exercised as part of an association. Finally: if your association has been involved in any kind of project or community work that you were able to participate in, make sure to include a brief mention of that on your resume.
Sometimes hiring managers or recruiters will use the names of relevant professional associations as key words when they’re filtering results to find applicants. That’s another reason why taking the time to add this information to your resume can pay off in the long run.
Article by Austin Brietta