If you are finding contract work to your liking, have you thought about how your career development should shift given your new form of employment? Contracting means you are focusing more on the work itself and less on working within any one organization. Involvement in professional organizations can replace promotions as signs of growth in your work and replace employer/organizational guidance in helping you set direction for your individual career development.

  • Professional organizations provide you with information on trends and hot topics in your occupation or industry.
  • Presentations at conferences and/or professional certifications signal potential employers that you have expertise.
  • Knowing professional ethical codes can provide you with guidance and support when working out the details of a project.
  • Networking can connect you with people interested in learning about the topics you want to learn about and who may also have job leads for you.

These are benefits that have traditionally existed but were less important when long-term employment within one organization was the norm. In the more mobile workplace, they become even more important.

A 2010 Pew survey of Americans’ involvement in groups of all kinds found that while 75% of Americans were involved in a group (“involved” was defined as attending some group event in the past 30 days) only 20% participated in professional groups. And just over 60% of those 20% who participated volunteered time to their organization. What these statistics suggest is that involvement in a professional group will set you apart occupationally and that will also help your career.

All professional organizations are not alike and there are a huge number of options involving almost every industry and function. You can find out about the options in your area by searching on the web, talking to colleagues, or asking your local reference librarian for a listing (see resources below).

Have a checklist in your head of the criteria that will help you select an association that will meet your career needs. Some criteria possibilities are:

  • Are there local face-to-face meetings where you can network?
  • Do past programs focus on new trends and issues of interest to you?
  • Does the association offer a set of rich resources for solving problems and providing information to members?
  • Do they offer certifications for new specialties in your work?
  • Do you feel comfortable at association meetings?

In recent years the business press has been focusing on the importance of being active on social media to mobile workers and suggesting that recruiters are mining those sources for job candidates. But one of the findings in a new study by Career Advisory Board and MBO Partners who surveyed contractors questions that belief. They report that, while social media is important to contractors’ branding and reputation, only 6% of the respondents said that social media outreach led to paid project work. Word-of-mouth was a much more important source of paid work (82%). Professional association involvement expands your contacts and that increases the potential for word-of-mouth referrals.
List of professional associations.

Rainie, Lee, Kristen Purcell, and Aaron Smith. “The State of Groups and Voluntary Organizations In America, Pew Research Internet Project” and “Joining Participating In and Leaving Groups”

O’Connell, Brian. “3 Things to Know About the Growth of a Freelance Nation,” The Street.

Sally Power, Ph.D. is a writer, researcher, and personal consultant accelerating successful career transitions.

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