Eight years into my professional career I unknowingly made one of the best decisions to advance my career – I joined AFCEA, a professional organization. Two years later, now a proud board member, I realize it is one of the most underrated but valuable career moves. Whether you’re looking for a new job or career advancement within your current company – I strongly recommend getting involved in a professional organization.
It’s All Who You Know
Most professional organizations say the benefits include networking, leadership, and educational opportunities. I quickly saw that all these were true, but it’s how you take advantage of these opportunities that can really make a difference in your life and career. Like anything else, what you get out of joining a professional organization is what you put in. First off, you have to actually attend some of the events and get out of our comfort zone and talk to new people. For me personally, this was intimidating at first, but also very exciting! Some of the people I met were in my same position with other companies, but I also met a variety of other individuals who were in different stages of their careers: Program Managers, VP’s, active duty military members, government employees and so on. Most of the people I met through AFCEA I would have never been given a chance to speak to, or even meet, in any other circumstance. If you put in the time, the relationships you will make will be extremely valuable.
Building Your Brand
As you volunteer to take on commitments, this is where marketing yourself really comes in. All of these new people you meet will know what company you work for, but more importantly, they get to know YOU. As you get more involved, they will get to know your work ethic, what your strengths are, where your passions lie, and how valuable you are. I have seen firsthand fellow members find new jobs through these connections; some completely organically, and some with the specific intention of finding a new job. Of course your resume is still important, and this is a great opportunity to build upon it. Are you interested in engagement or leadership opportunities? Here’s your chance to make them happen for yourself. Unlike at work, typically in an organization, you’re given an opportunity to pick exactly where you want to contribute your time to. Do you enjoy planning events? Are you looking for philanthropic opportunities to give back to your local community? Volunteer for a committee and put in the work. If successful, it’s not just your coworkers and your employer that are seeing your contributions; it’s also a community of professionals in your industry. The more you participate, the more visible you become. This formula works if you’re happy with your current company, but looking for advancement also! Becoming involved in an industry-related organization sets you apart and gives you an advantage over your peers. Take advantage of this opportunity to show your company leadership your ability to take on extra tasks, shine in a new leadership role, and possibly even bring in new business or partners. If you want to be more known and respected within your organization, this path will certainly get your name out there.
The Icing on the Cake
One big unexpected thing happened after I became more involved in AFCEA; I made a great group of new friends. I know this might not sound absolutely groundbreaking, but sometimes making friends as an adult is not the easiest feat. I’m talking about real friends that you choose to spend time with outside of the organization; a real support system. I will be forever grateful for this aspect.
Overall, join a professional organization that aligns with your industry! Ask around at your company! Odds are, your favorite coworkers are likely already involved with local organizations, and they can assist you with more information.
About Maggie Malpass
Maggie Malpass is a Technical Recruiter for Sentar, Inc. located in Charleston, SC. Follow Maggie on LinkedIn by following this link.