Not everyone gets to go to an ivy league school and come out of college with a six figure salary. Keeping your head down and working hard will help you advance in your career, but only to a certain degree. If you haven’t made it to a six figure salary by the time you are forty, the probability of breaking the barrier, though still possible, becomes less likely.
There is an easy way help fast track your career into this optimal salary range and also build confidence in yourself to realize that if you are ever fired from a job you can recover faster and with less effort than the average job seeker. Professional Associations provide a wealth of benefits to members over the life of your career and in most cases, participation takes less than two hours a month.
First of all, I suggest anyone who is an employee read the book Stealing the Corner Office by Brendan Reid. I actually hated this book and almost threw it out before finishing it, which is extremely rare for me, but once I got through the first quarter of the book, I couldn’t stop reading. It was the most useful book I read in 2016 regarding career advice for moving up the corporate ladder quickly without having to work harder or be more intelligent than your peers.
Secondly, I suggest everyone become an active member of a professional association related to their career field. Professional associations are non-profit organizations developed around a specific profession that can span a variety of industries. These associations provide a wealth of benefits to members over the life of their career and in most cases, participation takes less than two hours a month, half of which usually involves eating dinner and drinking together while listening to a professional speak on a topic relevant to your career.
In addition to monthly dinner meetings and cocktail hours, these groups provide a variety of continuing education catered specifically to your field of work, access to mentorship programs for little or no cost, career counseling from industry executives, industry recognized certifications, niche job postings with direct lines to hiring managers, and regional and nationwide networking opportunities. The annual membership fees can range from $80 a year to a few thousand dollars a year, but the costs are all tax-deductible and the long-term investment in your career is often worth the sacrifice.
I joined my first professional association in 2008 while I was completing my MBA and sleeping on the floor of an unfurnished room with a desk in some Chinese grandma’s house. One of my professors forced me to join the associate, and I began going to the monthly chapter meetings in my area. I would sit at the dinner table and made small talk with the others at my table who often turned out to be managers and directors of various Government Agencies and large corporations in my area. We would talk on a first name basis and discuss all aspects of life while sharing a cocktail. Eventually, a few members suggested I attend several week-long national conferences throughout the year, and even though I had no job or money to pay for these things my new friends helped me negotiate free entrance into the conference through volunteering my time.
Over the next year, I was able to attend conferences in Denver, San Diego, and Las Vegas for free. These conferences usually cost between $800 and $2,400 per person to attend. In return for the free passes, I would agree to show up a day early and volunteer to put together the conference swag bags, assist job recruiters set up their business’ booths, and check-in attendees at the registration table. These opportunities led to so much face time that within six months of joining the association I received a phone call from the director of the largest corporation in my desired industry and was offered a paid internship with all housing paid for. I never interviewed for the position and was blessed to start my career working for the powerful players within the organization which gave me rapport, face time and name recognition with the other executives. While other entry level employees were going to happy hour with their peers, I was going to happy hour with the vice-presidents and directors of this company that had over 150,000 employees.
The internship turned into a full-time job which helped cut the amount of student loans needed by half. Over the next two years, I worked hard to prove my worth and continued attending local chapter meetings every month. Right before I graduated, an opportunity with another industry leading company came up, and it turned out that I had shared a dinner table with a director of this company the year prior. I sent him a very unprofessional email like “Hey Karl, remember me? We talked about Home depot and how to fix a leaky pipe at dinner last year. I saw that your team has an opening, could you hook me up with an interview?” This was probably not the best approach, but I ended up with an interview the following week, except it didn’t feel like an interview. I sat in front of a panel of managers for an hour. They barely asked me any questions about myself but rather spent the time telling me what I would be doing. It was as if I was hired in their minds before I even interviewed and they were just going through the formality for the sake of formality.
With the new company came a 50% pay bump. The job was fun but I soon mastered the role and became antsy to for new challenges. By this time I had become well known across the association on a national basis for my skills and willingness to help others in and out of work. A year later another opportunity came up through my network contacts, and I hopped companies once again for another 25% salary bump with more senior level responsibilities. I advanced quickly in this position and my salary grew another 62% over the next several years.
By this point, you’re probably thinking I’m a special snowflake and very lucky to be given these opportunities, but I would disagree. I am not unique whatsoever, I know at least 10 classmates who followed the same steps and advance just as quickly as I in a variety of industries. Over the years I have also met 100’s of industry peers who acknowledge that a large portion of their career advancement was due to their professional association networks. If you don’t believe me check out this recent article on LinkedIn that states 85% of all jobs are filled via networking. Professional Associations and their networks are more valuable than an MBA to the accelerated growth of your career.
Alright so now that we’ve talked about the secret to accelerated career growth lets talk about the investment cost of these associations. As I previously said monthly meetings usually run about two hours and often consist of dinner and drinks while listening to a guest speaker educate the room on a current topic related to the business. If you choose to volunteer on the board of director you can expect to contribute an additional one to five hours of time each month, depending on the role.
Depending on the association, membership dues can range from $80 a year to a few thousand dollars, and you often have to pay between $5 and $20 per monthly chapter meeting to help cover the cost of dinner and travel cost for guest speakers. Registration costs for conferences can range from $500 to over $3,000 plus the cost of travel and food for the week which can easily cost $1,800 for the week. If you have friends near the conference you could always hit them up for a bed or use CouchSurfing.com to score a free place to stay. Quite often you can get your company to pay for these costs, but if they won’t, you can use your vacation hours and pay your way out of pocket. All of the costs out of pocket will be tax deductible. In my experience, I have invested anywhere between $200 and $6,000 in a year out of pocket to attend professional conferences for continuing education, certification exams, mentorships, networking engagements, and guest speaking. This may seem like a lot of money, but when you look at the accelerated salary growth of those who actively participate in professional associations, you’ll notice that the return on your investment from significant salary increases will make the investment in your career worth every penny.
There are professional associations for every walk of life, it doesn’t matter if you are into finance, medicine, the beauty industry, blogging, landscaping, real estate, golf, surfing, engineering, fashion, or any other field. There is a powerful network out there waiting to embrace you and help you get ahead, all you have to do is take the time to seek our and join the community that fits you. The faster you can increase your income, the faster you can pay off your debts, max out your 401k’s, invest your extra money and become financially independent.
Readers, do you participate in professional associations? What has been your experience?