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lynn-pageBy Lynn Galowich Page, JD, Assistant Director, Student Career Advising, serving students in the School of Education and Social Policy (SESP); Northwestern’s pre-law adviser

As you research different career fields, it’s likely you’ll come across a professional association focused on your industry of interest. What is a professional association? And can students benefit from joining one?

Professional associations exist for almost any career field and joining one in a field you are interested in pursuing, or even just exploring, can offer additional opportunities for professional development. Many of these associations encourage students to join, offering reduced membership fees and scholarships, or reduced fees to attend their conferences and workshops. Even without membership, you can often take advantage of an association’s online resources to stay up-to-date on key topics and trends relevant to your preferred industry—for free. For example, there are great articles, trends and tips you’ll find on an association’s website or social media, or in its e-newsletter.

If you’re considering joining a professional organization, here are a few of the benefits offered to members. I encourage you to meet with your NCA adviser to discuss which professional associations might be the right fit for your interests, as well as cost-benefit and any steps required to join.

1. Career Exploration

As a member, you will have access to a plethora of professionals in this field, as most associations maintain a member directory and offer local chapter meetings and workshops. These present great ways to access and reach out to professionals in the field in order to conduct informational interviews.

2. Professional Development

In addition to local meetings and workshops, most associations host annual conferences where you will have the opportunity to hear from leaders in the field and learn about everything from current trends to best practices in the industry. They also typically offer newsletters and other publications that provide up to date information helpful to professionals in the field, and, often, membership is not required to subscribe to association’s e-newsletter.

3. Networking

Once you know you want to pursue a career in a specific field, joining a professional association can provide countless opportunities to network with those in the profession. You will have the opportunity to network face-to-face at conferences, workshops and meetings. A great way for a student to gain access to these events for free is to offer to volunteer—and what better way to meet all attendees and scope out who is attending a conference than working the conference registration desk? In addition, many associations offer a way to connect online through LinkedIn groups and their own websites.

4. Find a Mentor

Many professional associations promote mentorship by pairing younger professionals with more seasoned ones. Having a shared connection through an association can help students or recent graduates meet professionals who are at the top of their field and might otherwise be harder to access. Participating in a formal mentorship program, or seeking out a mentor on your own through a professional association, can be another avenue to establish a relationship with an accomplished person in the field.

5. Find an Internship or Job

Most professional associations maintain their own job board, and that will be one of the first places a member will go to post a job opening. Of course, networking with members is another way to access the “hidden job market,” which is when a job opening will be filled before it ever gets publicized. Instead, those companies searching to fill a vacant position will turn to their fellow association members to seek referrals for the opening.

As always, we welcome you to make an appointment on CareerCat with your career adviser or counselor to discuss the many opportunities and resources that exist for Northwestern students to grow professionally and network with professionals, including identifying and accessing professional associations that might be of interest to you.

Examples of professional associations that offer student memberships include:

American Bar Association
American Marketing Association
American Society of Mechanical Engineers
American Management Association
The American Finance Association
The Society of Human Resource Management
Entrepreneurs’ Organization
Social Media Club
Association for Information Science and Technology
American Counseling Association
Society of Professional Journalists