Professional Associations: Should You Join One?

By Paula Santonocito

Networking GroupProfessional associations offer an array of opportunities to expand your career horizons. And no matter what industry you work in or what job you do, there’s likely an association that’s right for you.

Association Overview

Associations are as varied as the industries they represent, but most have a common purpose: to provide relevant resources for their members. These resources may include networking events, education, industry research, publications, professional services, and/or job listings.

Although associations often sponsor live events, many also hold events online. Today, all you need is a computer to attend seminars, take classes, and interact with others in your profession.

Education offered by associations tends to differ from what you’d find at a college or university. Courses and seminars are tailored to meet the needs of people who work in a given field. As a result, they provide you with a chance to acquire practical knowledge you can apply to your job.

Some associations also offer certification. By completing a series of courses and passing an exam or series of exams, you become certified as a professional in your field. Through the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), for example, you can satisfy the requirements for the Professional in Human Resources (PHR), Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) or Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR) designation.

Many fields have comparable designations. The basic idea behind certification is to establish a standard and provide recognition for those who have achieved it. Depending on your field, certification may help in the job search or lead to advancement with your current employer.

Each association has different membership criteria. And, yes, most charge membership fees.

However, companies often support employee membership in professional associations. Your company may pay your membership fee; it may also foot the bill for seminars, conferences, and other events.

Even if you have to absorb the cost yourself, joining the right association can more than pay for itself.

Finding an Association

There are many associations specifically for women.

In the technology field, for example,Webgrrls, WITI (Women in Technology International), and WIT (Women in Technology) offer opportunities.

For women in engineering, there’s the Society of Women Engineers. If you’re in the communications field, you’ll want to check out The Association for Women in Communications.

The options are as varied as the jobs women hold. You may or may not want to join a women’s association. Explore an organization’s offerings and determine if it’s a fit for you.

How do you find a professional association for your occupation?

Two online directories can help. The Yahoo Directory of Professional Business Organizations, from search engine Yahoo, and WEDDLE’s Association Directory,  a free resource from WEDDLE’s, a publishing and research firm that provides information for job seekers, career activists, recruiters, and HR professionals.

If you can’t find what you’re seeking in either directory, try using Google to search for an association. Simply enter professional association and your field or job level as a search term. For example, entering “professional association women executives” (without the quotation marks) returns a link to the National Association of Professional and Executive Women (NAPEW).

Global, National and/or Regional

Finally, keep in mind that many international and national associations have regional chapters. Depending on the organization and where you live, you may have opportunities to attend live events and get to know others from your community who work in your field.

Professional associations offer tremendous possibilities in terms of career development. They can also be a social resource.

Why not explore associations for your profession today?

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