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When starting a new job, your focus should be on understanding your role, learning the ropes and eventually contributing to your organization. However, at some point, you’ll want to grow within the organization or advance into a new role, which is when career advancement strategies come into play. 

While this often leads to plenty of job applications and networking meetings, it may be time to look at your association membership for more than just professional development. 

How Can Your Association Membership Help?

Chances are you joined an association for the opportunities – and that’s backed by research. According to the Association Trends study from YM Careers, 42% of early-career professionals ranked job opportunities as an essential membership benefit, and 74% of members use professional organizations (aka associations) for growing their professional community – that’s over LinkedIn at 69%. 

So, how do you make the most of your membership?

  • Professional Development: Regardless of your interests and passions, the bottom line is that certain jobs require specific skills and experiences. If on-the-job training is not possible in your current role, leveraging your association's professional development courses will be essential. Whether it’s intangible skills like leadership training or role-specific courses, an option is likely available for your needs. 
Related: 6 Best Professional Development Resources for Association Pros Learn More >
  • Mentorship Programs: A mentor can make all the difference in your career trajectory. Not only will they help you talk through your concerns and identify skill gaps, but they can also walk you through their career advancement journey. A good mentor will also introduce you to industry leaders and connections that can help you down the road. 
  • Job Boards: Many associations have job boards and routine updates about new roles. Not only does this help you identify those jobs you want to go after, but also it gives you an idea of the evolving needs in your industry, which is also critical when identifying the courses and skills you may need to add. 

How to Plan for Career Advancement 

A good career advancement strategy starts with planning. Some of the steps you should take to get ready for that new role include: 

1. Identify Your “Dream Job”

The first step of career planning is understanding what your dream job looks like. What skills do they require? How many years of experience do they need? What do professionals in that role have in common? Are there any groups that they belong to?

Make sure to organize these skills in a doc or spreadsheet you can easily add to and track as you start your career advancement strategy. 

2. Level Up Your Skills

Now that you know what skills you need for that job, it’s time to level up. Whether that means going back to school, signing up for webinars or investing in professional development courses, learn, learn and learn some more. 

Another great way to get some hands-on experience is with volunteer work. Your association will often have a board with opportunities or you can always reach out to the volunteer coordinator to see how you can get involved. 

3. Take On Challenges

More often than not, career advancement can occur in the organization you’re already a part of, which means making a good impression is vital. Make sure you get involved in big initiatives and projects at work and consider exploring leadership opportunities in your association – like joining a committee. 

The more you can make yourself indispensable and position yourself as a problem solver, the better chance you have of being in the discussion for new roles and promotions.  

4. Leverage Your Contacts

As the saying goes, it’s not what you know but who you know that counts – and this is especially true when it comes to career advancement. Part of the reason you should be working with a mentor and attending networking events put on by your association is that it helps grow your professional network. 

Not only do these contacts represent people you can count on for advice and guidance, but they can help create opportunities for you. Whether that means a speaking role at an upcoming event, a chance to lead a webinar in your association or even a referral for a new role – your network will advocate for you. 

5. Build a Portfolio

As you’re adding to your skills, taking the lead on big projects and getting involved in your industry, you should also be creating a portfolio you can leverage when you start interviewing for that dream job. 

As April Rinne puts it in her article for the Harvard Business Review, “Your portfolio is created by you, rather than determined for you by someone else (like a bunch of hiring managers). It reflects your professional identity and potential. It includes your unique combination of skills, experiences, and talents that can be mixed, matched, and blended in different ways.”

While you can always include your professional accolades, it’s also good to think outside of the box. What real-world skills and experiences can you weave into your daily role as an organization? 

“In a world of uncertainty, talent that can expand their thinking beyond boxes, silos, or sectors will be in demand. Those who make an effort to build a career portfolio now will be more prepared to pitch themselves for (and even create) new opportunities,” Rinne says. 

Career Advancement Is a Journey, Not a Race

Your professional career is going to be a long and challenging experience. While you always want to be at the top of your game, it’s important to remember that career advancement is a journey and not a race. 

While you can enjoy some early gains by growing your professional network and adding new skills, finding that ideal career path can take time. Although this can sometimes feel frustrating, you should always know that you’re not the only one in that boat, and that’s where your association membership can help.

Whether they’re helping you grow with courses and events or giving you access to a network of professionals you can rely on for advice and guidance, your association membership can be one of the best investments for career advancement.

Jose Triana
Post by Jose Triana
May 20, 2022
Jose Triana is a writer and creative focused on helping purpose-driven organizations learn and find value online. When he isn't working on content, you can catch him going for a run or resting with a good book.