September is Professional Development Month at The Muse! Check in all month for ways to boost your skills, get ahead at work, and be the best professional you can possibly be.

You’ve likely heard that joining a professional organization is a great way to network. These groups host events that bring together all kinds of people in your field—which makes it pretty easy to find like-minded folks to connect with.

But whether you’re a new professional looking for opportunities to break into the field or a seasoned expert seeking to elevate your craft, they have so much more to offer—and benefits you may have never considered.

So, don’t be shy. The low barrier to entry for most professional orgs means that you can get what you want out of them without jumping over too many hurdles (with some notable exceptions, like the CFA and other organizations that require exams). Membership dues vary greatly, but in general, local and regional organizations are more affordable than national ones. To find groups that suit you, peruse LinkedIn to see which organizations leaders in your field are in, or ask around to find out what your colleagues are part of.

Then, once you’ve signed up, get the most out of joining by taking advantage of these other benefits.

1. Professional Development

From general meetings to conferences, professional organizations are awash in opportunities to grow your knowledge and skills. In fact, attending seminars, speaker sessions, and events is perhaps the best way to stay up to date on the newest ideas and theories of your industry. As a bonus, you can look forward to being one of the people in the office who just always knows what’s going on in the industry outside of the company.

2. Leadership and Speaking Opportunities

If you’re up for it, you can go one step beyond attending a conference or event and offer to speak or present. This is an excellent way to establish yourself as an expert in your field and at work—you’ll not only be seen as high achiever among the organization, but back in the office, too. If presenting on your own seems like a bit much, try sitting on a panel or co-presenting with a colleague or other members of your organization.

3. A Platform for Your Expertise

If presenting just isn’t for you, no problem! Many professional organizations have some type of publication or journal, and increasingly, they’re also maintaining blogs. Regardless of your interest or commitment level, you’ll likely be able to find a platform to publish and share your expertise. My own first bit of writing for a professional organization, for example, was a 250-word book review in a quarterly journal.

4. Collaboration and Support

Think of this as one step beyond networking. Professional organizations naturally generate opportunities for you to share ideas and collaborate with other professionals outside of your company. For example, international students are a population I care deeply about, and after attending the conference for the National Career Development Association, I joined several other career counselors to create a survey for international students to learn about their needs. We’ve reached over 1,000 students and will be presenting the results at the next conference.

Beyond working together on a project, professional organizations are just great places to find peers with whom you can build a professional support network. It’s always encouraging to have people who will celebrate your professional success with you—and this is the place to find them!

No matter what level of engagement you choose to pursue, professional organizations offer tons of opportunities to participate and contribute. Whether you’re just here to learn or you want to make a name for yourself—consider joining one and see just how beneficial it can be for your career.

Photo of people meeting courtesy of Shutterstock.

Updated 6/19/2020