In such a fast-paced world of business, if you’re ambitious, it’s important to stay on your toes and be hungry for professional development. While learning continues throughout your career, it can be quite different from how you learn in school.
A free piece of advice from a fellow SFU Alumna (Communications 2005): your professional network is how you will sustain this learning, find new opportunities, make new friends, and find comfort in between jobs. As well as find the professional volunteering opportunities that will grow your resume – including acquiring new references for your next job interview.
Joining your professional association as a member is one significant way to develop and maintain your career network. Honestly, joining my professional association was one of the best things I did for my career.
Your network has already begun, from the group projects you work on to the groups you’re involved in on campus or the teams you’re a part of. As a student, I did the same thing, participating in SFU’s Residence Hall Association while living on campus, joining the rowing team, and staying in touch with a number of my classmates from group projects (in fact, one group of us have stayed in touch for the last 15 years – we meet up every year to hear how everyone’s doing). This is networking, and a professional association is another group to add to it.
What is a Professional Association?
Professional associations vary by trade and industry/sector, and nearly every profession has one. I am most familiar with mine, the International Association of Business Communicators or IABC. We’re a membership association, members pay an annual fee to be part of the community and take advantage of many different member benefits. Professional associations typically support your professional development, advocate for your profession in the industry, offer certification or accreditation options, industry awards, conferences, and networking events, not to mention peer-to-peer learning.
I first became a member of IABC in 2010, in between jobs, and started volunteering right away. I figured active volunteering would help me get more value out of my membership and I was right. The more involved I became, the more connections I made to establish my career network. Managing events was where I started, by organizing the event I got to attend professional development events for free and met all the attendees too. I soon found myself wishing I’d joined when I was a student to take advantage of opportunities like this (including cheaper student membership rates = the cost of a pizza & wine night!). You can learn more about our membership types here.
The benefits and experiences continue and now that I’m on the Board of Directors to manage our chapter, I was appointed chapter President for this year and it’s been a tremendous leadership and business management experience.
My 6 Reasons to Belong to a Professional Association, like IABC:
Belonging to a group of peers that can relate to what you’re experiencing in your career, at all levels and specialties, is truly priceless. Meeting in your school program or on the job is one thing, but sometimes you need another group that’s not biased to your employer, or elsewhere that you can connect with. I’ve found that being a part of IABC has helped to validate what I know instinctively or learned online and it’s great to hear others are in the same boat. This is especially true if you’re part of a small team or are a team of one at a company, or if you’re a consultant or a new freelancer, you want to be here.
We are your team and you belong here.
Volunteering with your professional association is a safe place to learn while building your network and resume – including making contacts that might even become a reference for you. At IABC, we are entirely volunteer run so we rely on you to get involved. I’ve been on the Board of Directors for three years now helping lead the chapter, and was an Event Manager for several years prior to that too. I’ve made life-long contacts (and friends), learned best practices in events, working with sponsors, communication planning, and more.
Being on the Board has given me leadership and management experience too, including travelling to international leadership development conferences, to help us run our chapters better. I’ve gained experience beyond communications, leading my chapter is about running a non-profit business, understanding financial management, sponsorship, people management, and so much more.
My personal mantra is that you get what you give, and I’ve chosen to give to my career and profession through IABC and the return on my invested time has been priceless.
3. Life Lessons as a Volunteer
In the eight years of my membership, I have learned a lot about life, myself and working with others, etc. Through volunteering and attending events, I am better able to define my own work style and leadership style, understand my strengths and weaknesses (we all have them) and what being a professional really means to me.
I’ve also learned about what I don’t like, how my workstyle differs from others and how that might transfer in the workplace.
Honestly, there are too many to highlight in this one post! From building your network in a professional association the opportunities that may cross your path are endless:
Learn from others at networking events
Grow your skills at a speaker event
Improve your public speaking by hosting an event, or chairing meetings
Give back to the community through programs like our Gift of Communication
Mentor others as senior members and give back to new communicators
Targeted job opportunities for communicators are shared on our website weekly
Certification programs to add further credibility to our professions
For many, this is the obvious one. You join an association to network and meet others, and that’s 100% accurate. Networking for me is more than about coming out to our social events though, while they are important, networking is also about staying in touch, and supporting each other. LinkedIn is a very powerful tool and space, and I take pride in growing my network both in person and online. Meeting and volunteering with someone from years ago, I work at keeping in touch when I can, because sometimes those connections come in handy when looking for work or helping another friend too. Not only has building my network been of value to me, it’s been of value to those in my network. I have helped others connect to new job opportunities, explore the world of freelance work, and more. This contributes to building your own reputation within your network, think of it like AirBnB or an Uber rating - you give and get (ratings)! This is all part of what I enjoy about networking – giving back, helping to elevate others. At IABC/BC we call this being a vibrant connector.
Lastly, networking takes time. It’s not a subscription based service, or something that with instant gratification – your time must be invested for the long-game. It’s a career-long effort to develop your network in a way that will serve you well and it also takes effort.
I believe, you get what you give, and the sooner you start the better.
6. Good Times
This is a bonus. Not only do you get all the above when you belong to a professional association, but you also enjoy a lot of good times. Like any good club, you’re among peers and like-minded individuals, so naturally friendships form and you get it. Particularly in a career where other people may not understand what you do, it’s invaluable to know others in the same boat and this can be a source of support, laughter, venting, and new ideas for your next project or initiatives. Also, we often have beer and wine too!
Well, we are just at the start of the IABC/BC year (like the school year) and have so much in store, to all those interested in business communication - I hope you’ll join us!