In an age in which many now define successful ‘networking’ by their number of connections on LinkedIn, developing a robust professional network IRL may seem like an antiquated notion or even an impossible goal. Still, the importance of networking in advancing your career is paramount – a recent ABC News study found that “up to 80% of jobs are landed via networking“. If you’re introverted like I am, the prospect of going out to network probably has as much appeal as a root canal. But before you become paralyzed by the idea of making small talk at endless networking events, let me propose a lower impact method to develop a valuable professional network and advance your career – join an industry association.
Joining the National Contract Management Association (NCMA) is one of the most important things I have done in my career to develop relationships with professionals in my field in a low-pressure environment. It has also offered me many opportunities for personal and professional growth, the most critical of which I outline below. Though these examples are specific to NCMA since it is what I’m familiar with, they will give you an idea of the types of opportunities generally available within larger industry associations:
- Networking events of every stripe – Hate the idea of walking into a conference room full of strangers? Why not grab a hot dog at a Nationals game, instead? Don’t want to suffer through an interminable evening of small talk? Why not drop by a happy hour at a local bar, instead? Associations are working hard to diversify their networking opportunities to appeal to young professionals. Once you get more comfortable, you can grab a wingman and check out one of the more formal events your association offers. While they may initially be intimidating, you will have access to some of the top professionals in your industry. These are the types of opportunities money can’t buy.
- Certification programs that set you apart – Here in DC, where it seems like everyone and their sister has a Masters Degree, differentiating yourself in the job market can be especially challenging. Certifications are one way to set yourself apart from the crowd and increase your earning potential. Many associations offer either their own industry-specific certifications or have training programs to help you earn such certifications.
- Leadership development programs, scholarships, and more – Many associations offer highly-competitive leadership development programs for promising young professionals. These programs run for an extended period of time and offer mentors to the participants, as well as the opportunity to develop close relationships with others in the program. Additionally, members pursuing higher education may be eligible for association scholarships and other programs promoting professional development.
- Quality training and educational programs – If you’re looking for training on a specialized topic, chances are, an association offers it. Since associations are often laser-focused on a specific profession, they are better equipped to get into the weeds and address complicated topics other training providers won’t. Further, this training may be CLP-eligible and help you meet professional requirements for continuing education.
- Opportunities for shameless self-promotion – Finally, associations offer you the chance to get your name out there and develop your brand through publishing articles in their magazine, speaking at their conferences, or writing a blog for their website. These are great opportunities because they allow you to focus on what you know best and reach an audience that will truly appreciate your expertise. They also make an excellent addition to your resume or LinkedIn profile.
These are just a few examples of how participating in an association can aid in your professional development. I’d love to hear more about how participating in such a group enhanced your career – post your experiences in the comments.
Jennifer Aubel is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.