What are Professional Associations?
A professional association, or a professional organization, is a group of people who all have a common interest, and/or work in the same industry. Professional associations are typically based on the industry you work in (e.g. nurses often join nursing associations), but sometimes people branch out into different areas (e.g. an architect may join a Sustainability association), or may be based on personal identities (e.g. National Black Nurses Association, National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association). These professional associations vary significantly from broad to niche, international to local, and active to infrequent.
Why is it important to join?
Joining professional associations is a key tool to develop your career plan, grow your knowledge, and make new connections.
One of the clearest benefits is the opportunity to grow your community of professional connections. Many professional associations will host events specifically to help folks meet one another, and may have other opportunities to connect (e.g. Mentorship programs, Conferences, Webinars).
Whether you are just entering the field, or are an established professional, it’s important to stay up-to-date on what is happening in your industry. Here are just a few ways you can learn from professional associations:
- Conferences. Conferences are large meetings of people focused on the sharing and exchanging of information.
- Webinars. Webinars are virtual presentations from other professionals to teach you about a specific topic.
- Codes of Ethics. Larger professional associations may provide a code of ethics, or guidelines for how to behave and act ethically within an industry.
- Continuing Education (CE). Depending on your industry, you may be required to attend a certain number of events or lectures in order to maintain licensure. If you are in one of those industries (e.g. Nursing, Education), professional associations are a great tool to get discounts on those events.
Getting involved in your field of interest is a great way to show other professionals (and potential employers) that you are driven and responsible. Many professional associations have committees that you can join to gain experience in teamwork, collaboration, planning, and more.
In addition to the information that you gain from networking with other professionals, large or active organizations may have helpful career-related information. This can include:
- Possible Career Paths
- Resume Tips
- Information on Graduate/Professional Schools
- Resources for Funding & Scholarships
- and more!
Professional organizations often have their own job board, where the positions are all within the industry represented. It’s a great way to search for job positions without having to weed through positions that may not be relevant to your search.
Finding & Joining Professional Associations
If you are interested in joining a professional association, it’s important to explore the options that are available to you.
Searching for Professional Associations
When looking for professional associations, there are two approaches we recommend taking:
- Look online. There are great search engines made specifically for finding professional associations. You can search by keyword with the Professional Association Finder by CareerOneStop, or search by Industry or by Local Region with JobStars. You can also try simply Googling your industry + “professional association.”
- Talk to others. It’s helpful to talk to people who are already in the field to learn about what professional organizations are active, provide helpful benefits, or are best for your particular interests.
- If you are looking to find someone to reach out to, you can join PeopleGrove to connect with St. Kates alumni, staff/faculty, or community partners.
Joining Professional Associations
It’s important to note that most professional associations have dues, or payments that members must make in order to be members of professional organizations. Dues are different from fees, which are one-time payments to enter. Dues are recurring payments (some are yearly, biannually, or monthly), which help fund the organization’s events, staffing, and resources. Thus, the dues for each organization can range widely, with some having very low costs ($5), while others can range upwards of $400.
With the cost being so high, professional associations are not accessible to all. Here are a few suggestions for ways to help pay for these dues:
- Student Discounts. Some organizations give reduced dues to current students. So, if you are currently a student, it is beneficial to join an organization now.
- Assistance Programs. Some professional organizations set aside funding for folks who are unable to afford the dues and/or fees to join. This will typically be listed on an association’s “Membership” page.
- Employee Benefits. Your membership in a professional organization provides personal and professional growth, which is directly beneficial to your employer. In some instances, as a term of your employment, the employer will pay the dues and/or fees of professional associations. This may be previously established, or you may have to ask for funding when negotiating a job offer or raise.