When I studied PR at Algonquin College, my professors constantly reminded us the importance of professional associations for our careers. These are the go-to resources for professional development after you graduate and a great way to build a network here in Ottawa.
So even though I dreaded networking and making small talk I went to a few events, with other students. We usually ended up standing in the corner. Maybe I talked to three to four professionals, maybe left with a business card or two. It probably ended right there. Soon after I graduated I pushed the idea of joining a professional association into the back of my head. I really didn’t see the value or understand why you paid to torture yourself like that…
However, in 2009 I finally joined the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and volunteered with the local chapter. I’ll admit I joined because my company paid for it, and I started volunteering because someone asked me to.
By this point I’d learned the value of networking and had become much better at it. I thought it was easy enough to network and build connections by attending free events and using social networking tools (which you should absolutely do as well!).
Three years later I am now the president of IABC Ottawa and I wish I had gotten involved sooner.
For me personally, this has been an incredible opportunity for my career. I’ve worked mostly in small organizations and haven’t had the opportunity to manage staff—a venture like this is a huge chance to take on a paid employee and I don’t blame anyone for not handing it to me. However I have been involved with IABC Ottawa for two years and I’ve made sure to seize every opportunity to understand how and why we did everything. When I was asked to take on the three-year commitment (executive vice president, president and past-president) it just made sense. I am now learning some pretty incredible leadership skills that I wouldn’t have been afforded in my day job. That alone makes it worthwhile to me.
Of course, you may not become president. You may not even want to. I wouldn’t blame you, it’s quite the commitment… But the outcome is the same: value for joining.
This leads to my other piece of advice about joining a professional association- you get out of it what you put in. I’ve found my involvement has helped generate business leads for my work, allowed me to meet interesting and career-benefitting people, and to get great references outside of my day job. However, that also means I’ve spent a lot of time outside of work volunteering, attending events, and corresponding with contacts via email and social networks.
A professional association gives you the opportunity to build skills and experience you don’t receive in your day job. I am thrilled about the opportunity and to continue building my skills beyond what I’m able to do at work.
It also means being part of a community of peers—one that is likely to be ready to jump in and help if you’re looking for a new job, some advice, or even little things like a restaurant recommendation.
Some people say you should never work “for free”. If you truly love what you do and gain so much from it, then is it really considered work?
Let me finish by saying this is your invitation to get involved: Don’t wait to be asked, go find the association that’s right for you. Attend events, join, and get involved. Aside from IABC Ottawa, you may also be interested in CPRS Ottawa/Gatineau (local chapter of the Canadian Public Relations Society) or CWC Ottawa (Canadian Women in Communications). There are also a number of others geared toward specific industries or roles within communications (such as the Editors’ Association of Canada).