Industry societies help workers learn, network and gain credibility.
SCHOOL AND ON-THE-JOB training teach workers much of what they need to know to do their jobs well. But for many positions, there's always more to learn.
That's where professional societies come in. There were more than 92,000 trade and professional associations in the U.S. in 2010, reports the American Society of Association Executives. While trade associations attract companies as members, professional associations recruit individual workers.
Educational programs are one benefit of joining a professional society. Others include chances to network and opportunities to build credibility by taking on leadership roles and competing for industry awards.
Read on to learn more about why workers join these organizations to advance their careers.
Associations pride themselves on the data and tools they make available, and their websites, webinars and newsletters are often treasure troves of information tailored to the needs of their members. Many of these organizations employ staff members who conduct original research.
These kinds of resources can be especially helpful to people just starting out in the workplace or those who otherwise might feel the need to "reinvent the wheel," says Reggie Henry, chief engagement and information officer at the ASAE.
Accessing association knowledge is "a lot quicker than you developing those tools and resources on your own," he explains.
Professional associations are known for hosting big annual conferences that bring together hundreds or thousands of workers. Many members consider this chance to meet peers and leaders in their field as one of the biggest bonuses of belonging to societies. Making informal connections at conference happy hours and more formal ties during workshops and education sessions can help people learn about job openings and ultimately secure offers.
These organizations provide other opportunities for networking, too, such as young-professional networks, committees, regional receptions and volunteer events. The ASAE even has its own private social network.
"There's something different about having a conversation in a community of trusted individuals as opposed to having a very public conversation," Henry says. "People have the same issues you have, share the same problems and the same Vegas rules apply: What you say here stays here."
Job Hunting Help
Networking at association functions helps members build relationships that may result in work opportunities. But professional societies also offer more explicit career assistance, too. Membership usually provides access to online job boards that associations host, and sometimes to staff members who work in association career centers.
"A lot of associations have job fairs, sometimes connected to a conference but sometimes separately," Henry says.
Trade associations typically prioritize political lobbying, but some professional societies also have branches that engage in efforts to sway policymakers into making decisions that benefit their members. Belonging to an association boosts its lobbying power by providing it with resources and increases its influence by swelling its ranks.
"Architects are small in number in relative terms to other professions, but our voice is strong," says Robert Ivy, executive vice president and CEO of the American Institute of Architects. "We have an advocacy organization that affected the tax legislation."
In some industries, membership in a professional organization provides credibility. By belonging, you indicate that you're committed to your field and that you keep up-to-date with trends and developments. Serving on a society's committee can show your current and future employers that you have leadership skills, while applying for and (hopefully) winning society awards gives you exposure and makes your resume stand out. Because some societies require members to have appropriate licenses, membership signals you've reached a certain level within your profession.
Additionally, some organizations, like the AIA, have codes of ethics that give peace of mind to clients and hiring managers alike.
"Architects know the association stands for certain values and to be a member, you adhere to those values, and you're held accountable," Ivy says.
To make the most of this potential credibility boost, remember to list your association affiliations and leadership roles on your LinkedIn profile and resume.
Selecting an Association
To many workers, it will be obvious which association to join. Others might have decisions to make. There are at least nine national societies just for accountants, for example. Some associations cater more to young professionals, while others are designed for seasoned veterans. If you're not sure which group to join, talk to trusted colleagues about their experiences with various organizations, Henry suggests.
It might benefit some workers to join more than one association, depending on their job functions and industry. For example, an individual who works in marketing for a manufacturing company may consider membership in different organizations that focus on each of those specialties.
All these resources come at a cost, of course. Annual membership dues range from about $50 to about $1,000, depending on the organization, Henry says. Some societies offer different membership levels. At the AIA, for example, fees are higher in parts of the country with more active chapters, like New York City and San Francisco, and lower elsewhere, like Wyoming.
Some workers pay these fees themselves, while others have their dues covered by their employers. If your employer doesn't offer to pay, consider it a benefit you can negotiate for.