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Searching for Your First Association Job

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: I’ve been working in the for-profit arena, but I think I might enjoy working for an association. What can I do to get noticed by hiring managers?

A: I applaud you for considering a switch to the association world! Working for an association can be highly rewarding (you can find a great preview here), but you must be clear as why you want to make this shift, because you will be asked over and over to share your motivation.

This change might take some time, so plan accordingly and keep at it until you succeed. As always, your professional network is a key to making such a move. Understand that you may need to take a salary cut—this is not always true, but when you move from one sector to another, it is a possibility.

You may have decided to move to the association world because of a volunteer experience or because you are passionate about a particular cause. These are great reasons, but be sure you can articulate your motivation clearly so that you send the message that you are committed for the long haul.

Once you’re clear on your motivation for making the move, update your resume to highlight the skills and strengths you think will be transferable to an association. Be sure to include any volunteer experience that might be appealing to a prospective association employer (perhaps you led a committee at your church or served on the board of a community organization). Update your LinkedIn profile to reflect your passions and your interests as well as your work-related skills.

You must be clear as why you want to make this shift, because you will be asked over and over to share your motivation.

If you have a particular association in mind, go to LinkedIn to see if anyone in your network has a connection to that organization. Use your contacts to gather information about its culture and anything specific that might help you get noticed. If you don’t have a particular association in mind, spend some time researching the ones where you think you might have the most impact.

Monitor the Association Career HQ job board for opportunities at the associations you’re interested in. When a job comes open that you’re qualified to fill and you have a contact at the organization, ask if he or she will recommend you or at least get your resume into the right hands. If you aren’t able to connect with someone inside the organization, craft a cover letter that carefully outlines your transferable skills so that the hiring manager knows immediately that you are a candidate he or she should meet.

When you get an interview, be prepared to show that you understand the differences between the for-profit world and the association world. Stress your transferable skills and your willingness to wear many hats, especially if you are applying for a position at a small-staff organization.

As in any job search, you need to sell your skills and strengths. In this case, you also have to clearly state your motivation for the change you’re pursuing and demonstrate how your skills will transfer to a new organizational setting. Put your focus there.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].

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