A professional association is a non-profit group formed of individuals from a specific career or range of careers that focuses on education, training, and networking within their field. The goal of the association and its members typically is to keep up-to-date with new practices in the field, share ideas, and network with each other. Most associations have regular membership meetings, panel discussions, formal trainings by experienced members in the field, and social events. Many even have groups on LinkedIn, and sometimes you can join the LI group without being a dues-paying member of the larger organization.
Professional associations can be a powerful tool during your job search and ongoing career development. Not only do you learn more about the trends and topics in the field, but it’s a great opportunity to meet other professionals, and build or strengthen your network. Members often share job leads with the group, and are willing to give direct insight on potential positions. You can also find individuals who may be willing to meet with you for informational interviews, and advise you on your job search.
Many professional associations also have information on their website specifically for students or those exploring the field, and some even have events specifically targeted to students. For example, the New England Human Resources Association offers an annual career panel for students considering the human resources profession, and the American Institute of Graphic Artists typically hosts a portfolio review for soon-to-be or new college grads. Most associations also offer discounted membership rates for students.
Ultimately, it’s a convenient way to meet multiple people from your field of interest. Expanding your connections with professional peers is essential to your job search success, both in terms of their general advice and the potential to help you get your foot in the door of a particular company or job.
To find professional organizations in your field, try Googling “professional association” and your major or career path, for example, marketing, chemistry, nursing, etc.
Tina Mello is Associate Director of University Career Services, and has worked at Northeastern for over 10 years. Nicknamed the “information guru” by other members of the staff, she loves to research and read about various job/career/education topics. For more career advice, follow her on twitter @CareerCoachTina.