Whether you’re a student, recent graduate, or career-building nursing professional, professional associations can provide great benefits.
This is especially the case if you’re a student. Professional associations – like the ones for nurses, paralegals, web developers, and other disciplines – need a steady stream of new members to engage, volunteer, contribute knowledge, and assume leadership roles. In order to encourage students to consider joining, most professional associations offer steeply discounted membership rates for them, and many also sponsor student chapters at colleges and universities.
But even if you’re no longer a student, associations can help you reach all sorts of goals important to growing and advancing your career. Consider the following…
Networking. When you join an association, you often have the option to become part of the local professional chapter (and the local student chapter if you’re a student) a local chapter whose membership is often practitioners who might be potential sources of information, opportunities, and jobs. This is an easy and often highly enjoyable way to meet a great number of the local professionals in your field.
Brand- or reputation-building. Take a leadership role with the local chapter to practice and demonstrate this critical skill, or be a terrific volunteer or committee member to help you easily connect with new people and impress them with your collaborative personal skills. This will deliver two benefits: 1) it will demonstrate to potential hiring managers that you see yourself as a professional who takes his or her ability to contribute seriously (especially important for students), and 2) it will impress your fellow volunteers and committee members with your reliability, commitment, and professionalism, which will make them much more willing to put their own reputations on the line to help you land a job.
Career insights. Most professional associations provide substantial information for their members about such things as potential career paths, salary trends, issues in the profession, hiring statistics, and similar information. In addition, associations frequently have online discussion groups (which you’ll have access to) whose topics and responses will provide real-life insights into careers in your chosen field. Also, by participating in your local chapter, you’ll have an opportunity to experience what it would be like to work with your fellow members. Do people seem to enjoy their careers? Are there some people you’d especially like to work with (or not)?
Job postings. Job listings are a common feature among professional associations. Even if you’re not looking for a job right now, checking out the available jobs will give you a good sense of what skills are in demand and who’s hiring for what positions. It’s one of the fastest ways to identify whether there may be some unanticipated skills you want to master before you graduate or, if you already have, you may want to go back to pick up. Also, you can ask friends you’ve met through your local chapter what they know about potential employers.
Professional development. If you’re a student, almost everyone could use help with tuition payments, and many professional associations offer scholarships to student members. The amounts usually aren’t huge, but we all know that every little bit counts. If you’ve already graduated, explore the webinars, workshops, online discussions, and other professional development opportunities and resources many professional associations offer, often for little or no cost.
Conferences. Attending association conferences as a student can help you see your future career “in action” – what are the people like, what topics are being discussed, what areas most intrigue you, where can you see yourself contributing? Many professional associations (as well as their local chapters) offer conference scholarships to students in return for some volunteer work, so you should always check out this option first to keep costs down. If you can’t attend, then at least research the online program to think through these questions. And if you are able to go, take business cards and connect with as many people as possible!
Already graduated? Then conferences provide an opportunity to get visible by presenting or being on a panel, moderating a group discussion, or volunteering with some aspect of the conference logistics. Line up a few appointments with online friends to finally meet face-to-face, attend presentations of interest and then follow up with the speakers, and of course always have your business cards with you.
To maximize those benefits as a student
To make the most of your association memberships, you’ll want to do two things. First, make sure you list you professional memberships in your LinkedIn profile – it will further affirm the seriousness of your professional commitment. In addition, you’ll want to join the association’s LinkedIn and/or Facebook group and become an active participant.
Second, if you’re a student, remember to renew your association membership at the student rate the day before you graduate!