Among the resources for managing and developing your IT career most often and easily overlooked are the relationships cultivated with professional associations, organizations, and societies. These groups bring together like-minded professionals who share interests in a particular field or endeavor into a cohesive unit. Ranging from the very formal (such as a bricks-and-mortar not-for-profit organization) to the informal (blogs, discussion boards, and business-focused social networking sites), countless professional associations exist for almost any field of professional interest. Whether your interest lies in information security, applications, programming, or information systems, chances are good numerous professional IT organizations are just waiting for you to join them.
Professional organizations provide a range of benefits whether you’re just starting a career, seeking to transition to another career in a different IT field, seeking to stay on top of industry guidelines and standards, or wanting to improve your skills and knowledge. Some benefits of membership in professional associations include:
- Educational opportunities: Most professional associations actively promote education and seek to help their members improve their knowledge and skill sets. Many go so far as to offer programs such as tutoring or study groups for professional examinations, test preparation workshops, and continuing education credits for keeping up with the start of their arts. Many organizations also make practice tests available to their members; some even solicit access to beta examinations. Some organizations offer industry-recognized (and sought-after) certifications, such as the ISC2’s CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional).
- Networking: Professional associations not only bring together like-minded individuals but those who are active and leaders in the industries and markets they serve. Through participation in conventions, conferences, luncheons, and social networking sites, association members can find many opportunities to form professional relationships with fellow association members. This kind of networking can be extremely helpful in securing job leads and referrals, or even recommendations.
- Job search assistance: Many professional associations maintain internal job databases available to members only. Often, employers list positions on professional association job sites before going to public with their job postings. Frequently, these postings are at national or international levels, making your search easier if you’re interested a position in a new geographic location.
- Mentoring: Many organizations operate formal mentoring programs, to pair new members with experienced members who enable newbies to benefit from their experience and expertise. This can be especially useful to those just beginning an IT career. Career guidance is frequently available to those pursuing a career change, or working to take their existing careers to the next level. In addition to career guidance and development, many associations also offer similar programs for leadership development and other soft skills such as writing, speaking, and management.
- Discounts: Membership in a professional society or organization can sometimes confer financial perks in terms of discounts or early access to prerelease materials and information before they’re made available to the general public. Such perks range from discounts on car rentals, travel, conferences, books, and classroom or online training.
- Publications: Associations often publish professional journals or newsletters that not only keep members informed about what’s happening in their market or industry but also provide information on valuable resources and other topics of interest. For those interested in publishing or sharing their knowledge with others, professional association publications offer a good avenue to get your message out to a wider audience.
- Market news: Professional associations generally keep their membership up to date on market news, including current trends in skills, hardware, and software; who’s hiring (and who isn’t); comparative salary and benefits analyses; legislation or court rulings impacting the industry; and more.
IT professionals support almost every aspect of daily life and work. One need only look around to see the influence of IT in industries such as education, healthcare, insurance, finance and banking, or project management, just to name a few. If you’re an IT professional working in one of these industries, don’t overlook joining professional organizations outside IT to stay abreast of the trends in that field. For example, an IT project manager could consider membership in a project management-focused association as well as in IT-focused groups or associations. To seek out professional associations, you will find these resources both useful and informative:
- Associations Unlimited, by Gale (Cengage Learning), is the “bible” of associations. In it, you’ll find a listing of hundreds of thousands of associations ranging from local organizations to national 501(c) non-profit organizations, along with contact information, websites, brief descriptions, and more. Associations Unlimited is only available by subscription. If you don’t want to subscribe yourself, many public libraries offer free access to this publication. You can also visit the Gale/Cengage Learning website, search for Associations Unlimited, and sign up for a free trial.
- Job-Hunt.org maintains a decent list of professional associations. Their website lets you search for organizations by industry.
- Weddles Association Directory offers a free online directory for associations from all fields. This Directory appears fairly comprehensive; it’s organized by category to make it easy to find associations related to specific areas of interest or activity.
Regardless of where you are on your career path, professional associations provide a great way to network, stay abreast of industry trends, obtain career guidance, and receive education and training. Membership also provides many opportunities to get involved not only in the professional community at large but in your local area community as well. It’s not uncommon, particularly at the local level, for organizations to operate with a small staff. This affords many opportunities to volunteer and assume leadership roles for events and activities. Although it’s too often overlooked or skipped, membership in professional associations can be a great career development and management tool for anyone, but especially for those who work in IT.