Career Planning and Development staff often get questions about the purpose and benefits of joining a professional association. Our enthusiasm in responding to these questions comes from our own firsthand experience as members of a professional association and general advice shared across professional development literature. The many benefits include:
- Professional development through annual conferences, monthly meetings or roundtable events, and webinars that focus on relevant topics. By attending these events, you can stay up-to-date on current issues and changes in your profession. Many associations, such as the American Nurse Practitioners Association (AANP), offer Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for attending events. Some professional associations, such as the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), offer training and certification courses.
- Opportunities to network and connect with other professionals in your field outside of your immediate work team. Connecting and engaging with other professionals in your field is one of the top career management strategies recommended by career coaching professionals. Professional networking contacts can offer inside information about career opportunities, share resources, offer guidance, serve as references, and help you build your professional reputation. Most professional associations are active on social media providing avenues for members to interact and share information. Not only do professional associations offer a variety of informal networking opportunities, many also offer formal mentorship programs. For example, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has a formal mentorship program. Joining a state or regional chapter or a division of an association can offer increased networking opportunities. For example, the Career Planning and Development staff belong to the Minnesota Career Development Association (MCDA), a division of the National Career Development Association (NCDA). By belonging to the Minnesota chapter, where we live, we can more easily participate in events and contribute.
- A wealth of resources including career resources, job boards, newsletters, blogs, and journals. Professional associations tailor the resources on their websites to the interests of their members. For example, the Association of Talent Development (ATD) has a job board and career resources specific to people in the training and development field. The American Association of Adult and Continuing Education (AAACE) has its own scholarly publications available to members. Associations may also offer resources specific to students and new professionals. For example, the American Society of Public Administration (ASPA) website has resources specifically for student members.
- Opportunities to advocate for positive change. Although advocacy work is not the primary focus of professional associations, many associations strive to contribute expertise and guidance to influence policy and decision-makers at the national, state, and local levels. Examples include the advocacy work for social justice by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the advocacy work on eliminating health disparities by the American Public Health Association (APHA).
- Leadership and volunteer opportunities through running for elected office to serve on the association’s board of directors or volunteering to help plan and organize events. Associations also offer opportunities to share your expertise and enhance your reputation as an expert in your field by presenting at conferences or monthly meetings and submitting articles for newsletters. For example, the International Association for Correctional Forensic Psychology (IACFP) invites members to submit articles for its newsletter.
Eligibility requirements vary by organization, but typically, associations welcome students, and new and experienced professionals. The fees to join a professional association vary widely; if you are a student, check if there is a discounted student membership rate. If you are employed in the field represented by the association, your employer may agree to cover all or part of the cost of membership.
If you are not currently a member of a professional association, the Career Planning and Development team hopes this article sparks your interest to explore the many different associations available and the advantages of belonging to an association. We invite you to visit the Career Planning and Development Networking page and scroll down to see the links to Associations and Professional Development resources. Also, there is an excellent professional association search tool on the CareerOneStop website. If you are a member of an association, we encourage you to seek opportunities to engage with other professionals and build your professional community through your association.
Higher Ed Jobs: Why Join a Professional Association?
Glassdoor: Professional Associations: What They Are and Popular Organizations You Can Join to Advance Your Career
Written by Denise Pranke, Career Planning and Development Specialist