Western culture is enamored with the myth of the independent lone achiever. Instead of lauding team members, we love success stories that portray a trailblazing pioneer unfettered by social and group connections. In reality, teamwork is effective in endeavors ranging from science to entrepreneurship to sports. In career development, joining a professional association offers opportunities for networking, inside knowledge of job opportunities, continuing education, and career advancement.
Many people know that their careers would benefit from increased interaction with colleagues, but they aren’t sure how to make it happen. Let’s examine the steps involved in joining and participating in a professional association.
Research possible professional associations.
You may already know which professional associations are key to your career field, but if you don’t, these resources can help. When you search, look at variations of the keyword for your field. For example, in my field, the keywords “psychology,” “psychological,” and “career development” bring up different results to explore.
Career One Stop Professional Association Finder
See if your local library has a copy of the Encyclopedia of Associations, the most comprehensive directory of associations. You won’t want to buy this yourself because it is very expensive and it is frequently updated.
It can also be useful to run a Google search using keywords for your professional specialty and adding +association or +organization or +society. This is particularly helpful if you are searching for professional associations focused on specific technologies.
If you live in Houston, I created this list to help you: Directory of Houston Professional Associations
Attend the professional association’s conference.
Once you join a professional association, consider attending a conference. You can accomplish the same amount of career-building networking in three days at a conference as in a significantly greater amount of time on your own. If your budget is tight, look for local regional conferences rather than national or international ones.
When you meet people at an event, evaluate which ones seem positive about the profession and excited to participate in the camaraderie of being there. Extraverts are likely to be more talkative but introverts can also be quietly enthusiastic. Either style is fine. The goal is to associate with people with good energy since it will make a difference for your own motivation and engagement.
Participate in online groups for professional associations.
Online participation can be useful, too, especially for people whose family situations make travel to conferences or other events more challenging. LinkedIn groups can be fantastic for making and building professional connections. Look for ones that prohibit excessive self-promotion because if the entire group just feels like spam, engagement drops to zero and it feels like everyone is shouting into the wind.
When you join a new group, lurk for a while before you post anything or comment on other people’s posts. Groups have cultural norms and until you understand them, it is better to proceed slowly than to inadvertently violate the stated or unspoken guidelines.
Volunteer for the professional association.
Volunteer for a leadership role that enables you to interact more with experienced professionals in your field. For many people, completing an assigned task is an easier way to build relationships than to do so by making small talk with professional acquaintances. Try to volunteer for roles that either leverage your existing strengths or give you a chance to build new skills in areas that interest you.