Looking for a way to develop professional relationships and build your network? Consider joining or becoming more active in a professional association.
Building and maintaining a robust professional network is one of the best ways to advance your career—whether you’re just starting out, are thinking of switching careers, or are already a leader in field. Your professional network can include current and past work colleagues, friends, and even family members.
But one of the best sources of professional network members is a professional association. These generally nonprofit organizations exist for nearly every industry and career field—from accountants to zoo keepers.
Most professional associations offer a range of benefits and services. Locate a professional association in your career or industry and see which of the following options are available:
- Attend networking events. Many associations offer monthly or similarly scheduled social events, often rotating after-work gatherings between various local meeting spots such as restaurants or conference centers. Often you can “test-drive” an organization by attending one of these events before joining and paying any membership dues. If a search on the Professional Association Finder turns up several associations of interests to you, visit each organization’s website to see if there are any upcoming events. Bring business cards and exchange as many as you can to help build your network. This is also a great time to practice and perfect your elevator speech.
- Become a full member. When you do find an association that seems like a good fit, it can be worth it to become a full member—even if the membership fee seems steep at first glance. Many organizations offer state or local chapters that are less expensive than a national membership, but offer many tailored benefits such as local events, relevant workshops, email updates and more. If you’re employed in the field, check with your employer to see if they will cover any membership fees.
- Get job search leads. Many professional associations offer a range of career services and even host their own job banks, which can be invaluable sources for job postings (on CareerOneStop’s Professional Association Finder, you’ll see a checkmark and a website link to related career services if an organization offers them). You’ll also find that the members you meet through an organization can be great sources for job leads—employees of different companies will often know about openings in their departments before they’re posted online.
- Attend regional or national conferences or workshops. Most associations will promote these events on their websites. They are excellent opportunities for expanding your professional network, hearing about best practices in other regions or businesses, and learning new skills. Have a particular skill that might be of interest to your colleagues? You can often submit a proposal to present a workshop at a conference—you’ll boost your exposure to others in your field and you might even get some or all of your expenses paid.
- Join the association’s LinkedIn group. Many organizations have LinkedIn groups to help further professional networking. You often have to submit your LinkedIn profile to the association be approved for membership in the LinkedIn group—so first take time to update your own profile. Once you’re accepted, you can begin to interact with other members by “liking” or commenting on others’ posts. You can also start your own discussions on topics you’re particularly interested in.
Learn more about networking from CareerOneStop.