One of the most effective ways to advance in your industry is by joining a professional association. The U.S. Department of Labor says, “Building and maintaining a robust professional network is one of the best ways to advance your career—whether you’re just starting out, are thinking of switching careers, or are already a leader in field.”
Your best bet for creating this network? Joining a professional association. Not only is it a great way to develop relationships, but it’s also an excellent opportunity to take on and demonstrate a leadership role that can help you advance in your career.
Of course, membership itself isn’t enough. You need to actually develop connections with fellow members; becoming a leader in the organization is even better. We talked to Sam Lippin, the Vice President of Business Development and Market Insights at Ivy Exec, about his experiences with professional associations and how he has made the most of his membership and moved into leadership positions.
Meet new people.
Your current and former colleagues are highly likely to attend the same professional association meetings as you do. But don’t spend all your time talking to people you already know. You do want to check in with the people you know, especially those who you don’t currently work with to keep those connections warm, but your primary objective in a networking event is to expand your network – meaning meeting lots of new people. If this doesn’t come naturally, Sam advises adding a bit of a gaming element to the event. Compete with your team, or with yourself from previous events, and see who can give out and get the most business cards by the end of the event. Making it a bit playful can help take off some of the awkwardness you may feel initially.
Be outgoing and confident.
To meet new people, put yourself out there at networking events and meetings. This can be a daunting task for some, but remember that everyone attends professional association meetings to connect with others.
“You’re all there for the same reason. It’s almost like a dating event. There’s nothing to be reserved about because people are there to be friendly and talk with one another.” Sam says.
Engage with new people by asking them questions about themselves and their work. They’ll probably also ask you questions, so be prepared to elaborate on who you are and what you’re about.
Pro tip: if you’re anxious about meeting new people, don’t give into the temptation to drink too much to calm your nerves. You always want to find the balance between being friendly and approachable and putting your best foot forward. “Maintain professional demeanor even when you’re making personal connections. You’re still representing your business and yourself. People’s perceptions of who you are influences how they think you run your business,” advises Sam.
Talk about more than business.
While it’s common to break the ice by talking about your professional interests, you’re unlikely to build strong relationships this way. If you’re only connecting with someone because you want something from them, too, they’re likely to sniff that attitude out a mile away.
Instead, connect with the goal of making a new friend. What interests do you have in common? What’s your life like outside of the office? Your goal is to encourage new contacts to like you and to trust you. Don’t expect to form these deeper-level connections on your first meeting either, building trust simply doesn’t work that way. It takes time for someone to get a sense of what kind of person you are. “To get a client for life, people need to know you, like you, and trust you. Attending networking events is a great way to get people to know and like you. Trust will come with time,” Sam suggests.
Follow up to develop your new connections.
After a networking event, following up with a an email is a great first step, so make sure you get their contact information. Don’t let that follow up email be too perfunctory though, remember you’re trying to build a long-term connection with a real person. To build trust you need to start off on the right foot by showing that you paid attention and took note of who they are and what their priorities are, both in business and personally.
Sam recommends taking people’s business cards and make notes on the back immediately after you’ve finished a conversation. Jot down things like their kids’ names, their hobbies, and whatever else you discussed on the back of the card. Then, when you connect with your acquaintances again, you’ll remember what they told you. This isn’t just a business tactic, either; people are genuinely touched when you bring up details they told you about their lives.
Demonstrate interest in the association.
After you’ve started attending meetings and networking events, make yourself an invaluable contributor to the group. Continue connecting with colleagues and deepening your relationship. Engage with the group’s activities by asking questions and making comments. You’re not going to be the president of your professional organization right away! But there will be plenty of opportunities to take on additional responsibilities, like setting up for events, selling raffle tickets, or helping the front desk. As a new member, there should be no task too small for your time and effort if you really are committed to helping the group to grow and flourish.
Again, if you’re just going through the professional association paces to advance your career, other members will be able to tell. If your interest in the group is genuine, you just have to show your authenticity. “If the association’s leadership sees you attending being a dedicated member, you’re more likely to be sought after for a leadership position,” Sam explains.
Volunteering to take on a more active role, even with something as simple as setting up chairs all the way up to organizing future events, is how Sam started deepening his commitment to his professional organization. After he started taking on necessary tasks for the group, another member asked him to join the board.
“They have to know you’re committed and willing to help. If you want to be in a leadership position you have to get involved, give time, attend events, and help them. Ask how you can be of service!” Sam advises.
Committing to a professional association
Too many people think that membership in a professional association itself is a golden ticket to the next stage in your career. But membership isn’t enough. You need to build connections, demonstrate your leadership, and show a mutual commitment to furthering others’ success. Demonstrate your value to your professional association and new opportunities will arise in time.
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