Although at the time I didn’t realize it, I started building my professional network in high school when I participated in student government and joined the Business Professionals of America (BPA). I’m certain I didn’t know what “networking” even was at the time. But I did realize the importance of furthering my education by joining extra-curricular groups to learn more about specific areas I was interested in – speaking, travel, business. I was a member of the speech/drama club, the “International Club”, BPA, and the editor of my high school yearbook for two years. My involvement in these organizations was foundational in developing the skills that are necessary for business success today.
Twenty years later, I have now been a member of numerous professional associations and networking groups. I can honestly say it’s been one of the key factors in my professional success. These professional association memberships have continued to train and educate me and have exposed me to new ideas, new methods, new resources, and most importantly new people. These have all been instrumental in helping me achieve my goals. I’d like to share seven reasons why I believe professional association membership can invigorate your career as well.
1. Building a Strong Professional Network
There’s an old maxim, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, that gets you where you want to go.” How true! As administrative professionals, you can never have too many contacts. Whether you’re looking for a resource to help you accomplish something in your current position or you’re looking for an entirely new career opportunity, it’s your network that will help you find it quickly. I have landed more than one job as a direct result of my professional network, even when I wasn’t looking for new opportunities.
You don’t have to be a social butterfly to become a great networker. Networking is not something you do – it’s a mindset. It’s the awareness of what other people need and then helping connect them to those who can provide it. When you engage in thinking this way of actively helping others, they will do the same for you. Networking is a skill you must learn if you want to advance no matter what your career path may be.
2. Professional Development Opportunities
Through my professional associations, I have had access to countless seminars, conferences, conventions, and many other training events. Some are in person and others are virtual by phone or Internet. Monthly educational programs are typical of most groups. With the explosion of Internet-based training, finding free or low fee professional development from associations and organizations around the world is now easier than ever before! All you need to do is a few social media or Google searches that combine your topic of interest and the words training, teleclass or webinar, and you’ll find numerous options.
3. Professional Certifications
I researched the Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) credential several years before I ever pursued attaining this certification. It wasn’t until I joined the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP), had the support of their organized study groups in my local area, and the support of my fellow chapter members, that I attained the CPS and later the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) certification. There are professional meeting planner certifications, human resources certifications, paralegal certifications, and more. Many professional associations support their members in attaining profession specific credentials. Many of these credentials will also count toward college credit if you choose to pursue a college degree down the road. So do some research and see which credentials may benefit you professionally.
4. Leadership Development Opportunities
You’d be hard pressed to find a better training ground for leadership development than professional association membership. There are so many opportunities to coordinate meetings and conferences, lead meetings, work on teams with numerous personalities, and become more comfortable with public speaking in a supportive environment. These skills are immediately applicable in the workplace, too. However, you MUST get involved in your professional association if you want to reap the full benefits of membership. Get your feet wet by joining a committee. It’s a great way to learn all about the association you have joined and how they function. Then consider chairing a committee or running for a board officer position. The leadership skills you will learn about working with people, organizing events, and running meetings is priceless! It provides leadership development often not available on the job.
5. Develop New Skills to Showcase in your Resume and Professional Portfolio
Professional association membership is a fantastic resume and professional portfolio builder! For starters, employers like to see someone who is connected to and actively engaged in their own professional development. Professional association membership is one way to demonstrate that.
Additionally, let’s say you want to do more event planning or project management, but you aren’t currently being given those opportunities in your job. When you manage a project or coordinate meetings or events for your professional association, you get “off the job” training. You can add these skills to your resume and professional portfolio. At review time, you can show your employer what you’ve done to gain that experience necessary to be considered for new assignments “on the job”. That new skillset may also open doors for a new job.
My professional association participation has helped me demonstrate skills I’ve developed in securing sponsorships, negotiation, marketing, writing, trade show coordination, event planning for large groups, project management, leadership, development of training programs, working with diverse teams, coordinating volunteers, and much more. But you must get involved to learn these new skills.
6. Increased Self-Confidence
The more you practice new skills, the more confidence you gain in your abilities to perform. Professional association membership gives you the perfect arena to practice what you’re learning and build your confidence in doing it. When you’re self-confident, your credibility increases. You’re more confident speaking in front of groups and managing projects. These skills are directly transferrable into the workplace, and your boss knows you’re serious about the profession and improving yourself.
7. Personal Development
You may want to try something new to stretch yourself or to see if you’d even like an aspect of business without having to commit to it long term. I’ve seen many people in my professional associations do this and discover a hidden talent they didn’t know was there. I’ve also seen some of them realize “this isn’t the spot for me.” But what a great place to be able to figure that out – instead of at work where it’s much more difficult to “test drive” something without it becoming a permanent job duty.
I’ve witnessed shy members become more comfortable with public speaking, nervous officers become confident leaders, and seasoned professionals gain new skills because they were engaged in actively pursuing their own personal development. Many of these organizations have opportunities such as webmaster, newsletter editor, social media coordinator, parliamentarian, sponsorship coordination, treasurer, fundraising, monthly meeting planner, annual seminar coordinator, community service initiatives, and more. Stretch your comfort zone and reap the rewards of personal growth.
A Few Parting Thoughts
In this day and age of web 2.0 technology, there are more than just the traditional professional associations where you actually join a local chapter to participate. There are numerous online or virtual organizations that you may choose to consider also. Do some online research and learn about what options exist and see if they are a good fit for your needs.
Here are some examples of professional associations I’ve found beneficial throughout my administrative career:
- International Association of Administrative Professionals: www.iaap-hq.org
- The Association of Executive and Administrative Professionals: http://www.theaeap.com/
- International Virtual Assistants Association: www.ivaa.org
- Virtual Association for Administrative Professionals: www.thevaap.com/
- Virtual Assistant Networking: www.virtualassistantnetworking.com/
- Meeting Professionals International: www.mpiweb.org
- Society for Human Resource Management: www.shrm.org
- Toastmasters: www.toastmasters.org
- Business Networking International (BNI): www.bni.com
Always visit a group 2-3 times or participate in their online forums (if you can) before you join to make sure they’re the right fit. Give them a test drive. Not all associations are created equal. And it’s important to invest your time and money wisely when you choose which ones you want to be actively engaged with.
You may also consider volunteering with local hospitals or non-profit agencies such as the American Red Cross, United Way, or other local charities where you live. This is a fantastic way to get involved, build your network, learn new things, and add excellent experience to your resume and portfolio. Almost every one of these agencies has administrative needs ranging from basic to complex. And they will be thrilled to hear from you!
I encourage you to consider professional association memberships no matter where you’re at in your career and discover how it can invigorate your personal and professional career growth!
© 2011 Julie Perrine International, LLC
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Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, providing training, mentoring and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. Julie applies her administrative expertise and passion for lifelong learning to serving as an enthusiastic mentor, speaker and author who educates admins around the world on how to be more effective every day. Learn more about Julie’s books — The Innovative Admin: Unleash the Power of Innovation in Your Administrative Career and The Organized Admin: Leverage Your Unique Organizing Style to Create Systems, Reduce Overwhelm, and Increase Productivity. And request your free copy of our special report “From Reactive to Proactive: Creating Your Strategic Administrative Career Plan” at www.AllThingsAdmin.com.