One of the best pieces of career advice I can give to a new professional is to be involved in your professional association. Whatever it is that you do or are interested in doing, I can guarantee that there is an association for it.
Step 1: Association Identification
You may wonder how to find the right association to join. According to the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), there were 90,908 trade and professional associations in 2009. Regardless of your professional affiliation, there are likely to be plenty of national, state, local, and international groups that relate to your career. Do you want to join an all-encompassing national association, or something on the local level? Maybe you want a more specialized group. For example, in my profession (social work), there is the National Association of Social Workers (national social work association), state chapters of NASW (state level), and the Association of Oncology Social Workers (one example of many specialized associations). Almost every state has its own association of nonprofit organizations, for those in nonprofit management. If your area of specialization is mental health, there are mental health associations on the local, state, and national levels. If you do a Google search for your profession or interest and the word “association,” you will find more than enough to consider.
Step 2: Be an Active Association Member
On the most basic level, this means joining the association. Once you join, you will begin to receive newsletters, notices of meetings, conference brochures, member benefit information, and other items. Take advantage of the opportunity to attend a meeting, where you can learn new things and meet new people (network). As an undergraduate student, I attended a national conference, where by chance, I sat next to an author I admired. In the course of our conversation, she asked me to intern at the hospital where she worked! Eventually, you may volunteer to help with a project, join a committee, write an article, present at a conference, or run for organizational office. It is easy to get involved, as associations are always looking for members who want to volunteer and bring in new ideas. Early in my career, I joined planning committees on the local and state levels, later becoming a board member. These activities allowed me to learn new skills while also meeting colleagues and becoming known among my peers. As you get involved on whatever level you choose, look for people who are potential mentors, and work toward developing mutually beneficial ongoing relationships with colleagues.
Step 3: Maintain Professional Relationships
As you become more involved and become a valued member of the association, the association will also have increasing value to you. The professional connections you make through association networking can lead to new collaborations, new learning, and even new career leads. If you go to your association’s state conference and meet a new professional connection with whom you have interests in common, try to find out if there are things you can each do to help each other out professionally. Maybe he or she can introduce you to someone at an organization you want to work for, or maybe you can send her or him information about a project you just worked on that would help with a similar project. When you get back home, make sure to follow up on any items you talked about and to add your new contacts to your social media networks.
Linda May Grobman, MSW, ACSW, LSW, is the publisher and editor of The New Social Worker magazine (www.socialworker.com), administrator of SocialWorkJobBank.com (www.socialworkjobbank.com), and editor of the Days in the Lives of Social Workers book series. She has been both an active association member and an association executive and was named the National Association of Social Workers Pennsylvania Chapter Social Worker of the Year for 2014.
© 2015 Linda May Grobman