7 Association Career Navigation Tips for Young Professionals

By Kendra Pheasant, CAE

For those new to the association space, but who are looking to build a career path in the industry, here are seven steps to help ensure current and future success.

Associations provide a fascinating career launch point for young professionals given their numerous operational areas, including program and professional development, volunteer management, strategic leadership, membership, communications and marketing, meetings, and more. Below are some tips for young professionals to consider when navigating a career path in associations.

Eliminate the “It’s not my job” mentality. About two years into my first association job as a membership assistant, my immediate supervisor who oversaw both the membership and training departments took an extended absence, during which time I was approached about covering her workload. I enthusiastically took on the additional responsibilities, seeing the opportunity as a way to not only stretch myself but to also showcase what I learned through her mentorship. Upon her return, she spoke with the CEO about restructuring our positions, which involved a promotion for me.

Find a cheerleader. I know several people who have established formal mentor relationships. If you can do that, excellent. If you haven’t found an official mentor within the industry, you can still foster informal relationships by periodically checking in with someone who you trust and respect. Seek out someone who encourages your personal growth and looks to stretch you professionally. This could be a partner, parent, or friend.

Talk the talk and walk the walk. Association professionals work with volunteers on a daily basis; it’s inherent in our line of work. What better way to understand thevolunteer perspectivethan by becoming an active one yourself. Additionally, volunteering on a committee or board can help sharpen certain skills and broaden your network.

Shift to a “results” mindset. Being able to clearly articulate your key accomplishments is what will set you apart to current and future employers. What specific impact have you made that has helped the organization achieve its goals or advance its mission? Be ready to highlight these successes when annual review time rolls around—or when you’re ready to spruce up that resume.

Being able to clearly articulate your key accomplishments is what will set you apart to current and future employers.

Respectfully challenge the status quo. How often have you heard, “We’ve just always done it this way,” when discussing the rationale behind a certain process, policy, and so forth? Being able to increase efficiencies is a valued skill. One strategy to open the door for these types of conversations is to start by asking strategic questions. Follow-up with suggested recommendations for improvement, while demonstrating your understanding of the balance of an organization’s traditions, available resources, and importance of innovation.

Periodically review your goals. Define your current career goals. Are you looking to develop a niche expertise, such as becoming the best marketing specialist out there? Is working remotely and organizational flexibility most important to you? Or, are you set on heading to the C-Suite? Your goals may change over time, so revisiting them periodically will help you focus on what steps you need to take in order to achieve them.

Play an active role in your own development. Once you’re clear on your goals, you can then develop your action plan. I chose to pursue a master’s degree in nonprofit management, as well as obtain ASAE’s certified association executive (CAE) credential because I wanted a more comprehensive understanding of nonprofit and association operations beyond what I had experienced in the membership and event departments up until that point. Now, I work for an association management company as an executive director for several clients. Mission accomplished!

However, realize that these types of structured educational programs aren’t your only options. You can start with any of the countless free webinars available, and industry conferences are also a great way to further your development and expand your professional circle.

Kendra Pheasant, MS, CAE, is an account executive at Association Resources, Inc., an association management company in West Hartford, CT. This article was originally published on asaecenter.org.

Career Development