What are the reasons to join a professional organization? For starters, when it comes to your career, your reputation is everything. Who you know–and, in turn, what people know about you–will define the types of opportunities that come your way. You’ll be viewed as a trusted, reputable professional if you stay dedicated to expanding your career field knowledge.
From growing your network to learning new skills, joining a professional organization is a stepping stone that can lead you in all kinds of positive directions. Learn more about professional groups and the 11 things you can gain from joining one.
What is a professional organization?
A professional organization, also called a professional association, society, or trade group, is an organized group dedicated to advancing people’s interests in a specific occupation. These groups are usually nonprofits made up of members who work in that field.
Professional organizations may provide industry oversight, grant certifications, lobby for the interests of their members, provide educational opportunities, and give back to the community. The American Welding Society, for example, is a professional group for welders that oversees and awards certifications to qualified workers in the field. Another example, the American Association of Orthodontists, helps educate patients on the benefits of orthodontics services.
Professional organizations exist at both the national and local levels. Members usually pay a fee to maintain their good standing and receive access to the organization’s activities and benefits.
Benefits of joining professional associations
Expand your skills
Technology is evolving at a faster pace than at any point in history. To keep your skills sharp, you must consistently seek opportunities to learn new things. Professional organizations offer members-only training sessions, conferences, and access to top thought leaders in the field to help you advance your expertise.
Stay on the cutting edge
Professional organizations publish newsletters, magazines, and other trade publications filled with industry experts’ latest developments in the field. These can help you stay abreast of changing industry standards and discover new ways of doing things that are helping others in your field succeed.
During the onset of the pandemic, for example, professional organizations gave their members outlets to share knowledge and success stories of adapting to the rapid changes going on in the world.
In some fields, like medicine and engineering, being part of a trade organization is essential to be seen as a trustworthy professional. Association memberships are a great way to get involved and stay informed on the latest industry innovations. Even in fields where being part of an official organization isn’t as necessary, having one on your resume can help you establish credibility, attract clients, and win jobs.
Build your network
In most fields, who you know is equally important as what you know. Joining a professional organization can dramatically broaden your network, so you’re more likely to hear about opportunities and be introduced to the right people who can help you advance your career faster.
Gain professional clout
It’s commendable to show up to work and do a good job every day, but it takes more than that to become a leader in your field. A professional organization can help you take your career a step further with things like speaking opportunities and getting published to gain more recognition.
Find a mentor
A mentor can be invaluable for gaining personalized, professional guidance about your career path. Many professional associations offer mentorship programs that pair newer members with more experienced peers. Or, if you’re a more seasoned professional yourself, become a mentor and help mold the next generation of your industry.
Receive industry discounts
Industry conferences and seminars can be a great way to expand your knowledge, but their entry fees can be pricey, not to mention the travel costs associated with getting there. Professional groups often offer members heavily discounted rates on industry events. Sponsored webinars are another option.
Become an advocate
Changing regulations can affect how you do business, work with customers, and ultimately earn a living. A professional group can empower you to fight for the best interests of yourself and others while shaping how your field develops via lobbying and other channels.
Meet new friends
Maintaining social connections is important to our mental health, but it’s hard to meet new friends as an adult! Being part of a trade group can help you connect with people who share common interests and are in a similar stage of their career, which can result in professional and personal relationships.
Make a difference
In addition to doing advocacy work in their own field, professional organizations often take on projects and causes that will make their cities and towns a better place. As a member, you’ll have access to volunteer opportunities that will help you forge a strong connection with your community, which, in turn, can also lead to beneficial relationships outside your professional network.
It’s easier to love what you do when you’re actively engaged with it. Being part of a professional group can help your work feel fresh and exciting, even when it’s something you’ve been doing for years.
How to get involved with a professional organization
1. Do some research
If you’ve decided you’d like to get involved with an organized group in your industry, the first step is to find out which ones are out there and what it entails to be part of them. Some may have stricter membership requirements than others or serve varying purposes, like a volunteer-based group versus a certifying body.
Ask colleagues and managers at work what organizations they’re part of. Browse LinkedIn to see which groups leaders in your field list under their credentials. Look up the largest professional organizations in your industry and see if they have a local chapter in your area.
2. Attend a meeting
Before you apply to join a professional organization (and pay the fees associated with doing so), it’s a good idea to make sure the group is a good fit for you by going to an event or two. Professional organizations usually have informational activities that are specifically dedicated to prospective new members.
Learn when these are and sign up for one, or attend a public-facing event held by the group. You’ll be more likely to participate in the group over the long term and find value if you join an organization you feel connected with.
3. Reach out online
Once you’ve decided on a group you’d like to join, get in touch to learn more about their application process. LinkedIn, Twitter, or their website’s contact form are typically all good channels to reach out for membership information.
4. Ask your employer
Before officially submitting your membership materials, check in with your manager or your company’s HR department to see if they offer continuing education. Some companies cover all or a portion of the fees for employees to join professional associations. Or, you might be able to get reimbursed for it as a ‘professional development’ expense.
5. Stay active
Once you’ve joined a professional organization, make it a point to put yourself out there and become a familiar face to other members. If networking doesn’t come naturally to you, it can be helpful to set some benchmarks for yourself just as you would with any professional goal, like attending at least one event per quarter and meeting ten new people. This will keep you active and make sure your membership is worthwhile.
Not only does it feel good to add a recognized organization to your resume or LinkedIn profile, but you’ll also reap the many professional benefits of being part of an organized group of like-minded people dedicated to your chosen career.