Before joining a professional organization: try before you buy
According to National Public Radio, there are more than 92,000 professional associations in the U.S. Regardless of your job, regardless of your career path, there is most likely a professional organization appropriate for you.
But which one? Some are straightforward. Society of Automotive Engineers. There is little doubt as to its main focus. But what about the American Marketing Association? Should you join if you’re in sales? Should you join if you develop websites? Who’s to say?
But why join at all? When you get right down to it, there are two reasons to join a professional association: professional development and networking. As a job seeker, you should be especially interested in the networking.
Of course membership in any these organizations is probably not inexpensive. We’re talking a significant financial investment. And since you don’t have an employer to pick up the tab (which fewer and fewer are doing these days, by the way) you will have to shoulder that financial burden alone.
This makes the question of which to join even more compelling.
The good news is that, in most cases, you can test drive them. Most societies allow “non-members” to attend events. (This is especially true now since most “meetings” are virtual and many are free to attend.) But even if you have to pay extra to attend a live meeting as a non-member, this is a good investment to see what the group is like, who the members are, what is the quality of the presentations, etc. Bottom line: to see if this group can benefit you.
If it is a live meeting, arrive early to begin networking with whomever is there. You could even offer to help with registration as a way to get a good read on the attendees. Then you’re on your networking way. Who else belongs (in terms of companies)? What are the programs like? Are there opportunities to get involved where you can mix and mingle with other members?
One final note. The national organization and the local chapters may be very different in a variety of ways. This is why it’s important to check out your local group. They could surprise you – either way.