I’m at an interesting point in my career journey where I’ve recently transitioned from a young professional to a mid-careerist. What I’ve found is that defining your mid-career, and your career in general, is really up to you. It’s up to you to pave your own path, and the good thing is that you can do anything you want to do, especially in the association landscape. The bad part, on the other hand, is you really need to know and be able to articulate your mission statement or your ‘why’ to yourself as well as to others.
BE OPEN TO CHANGE
I started the association portion of my career journey in education. After about six months in an education/certification role, I moved into marketing because the federal grant for my education role was ending. Before that education role, I worked in corporate roles in marketing, product management, and business development in the electrical and industrial industries. I never thought when I was studying marketing and communications in college that I would be marketing to manufacturers, distributors, and end-customers ranging from electricians to linemen on the telephone poles. But that’s what I did for ten years.
Then about four years ago, I transitioned to association management. I had volunteered for a trade association that served individuals in my previous industry, but I had never even heard of membership associations. I happened to have coffee with a friend of a friend who knew I was in the job market, and six months later I was working for an association in the supply chain management space. When our membership director left, I moved into membership, which was something I volunteered for, even though I love marketing and content development, because I feel that marketers are stronger when they know sales.
The story of my career has been about being open to change, different paths, volunteering and trying new things, while not being afraid to fail. If there is one takeaway and lesson that I can provide you from my career, it’s to be open to change but to still know what your desired endgame is and to always keep in mind your ‘why’.
VOLUNTEER, VOLUNTEER, VOLUNTEER!
I am currently the Marketing Director at the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, but I had been job hunting before that. One of the ways I used to vet the different organizations I interviewed at was to ask interviewers: “Will you support my volunteer participation in the association community?” By including that question as part of the interview process, it helped me to vet whether the organization fostered a culture of learners and if it would support me in my endeavors to broaden and deepen my understanding of the association space.
Volunteerism for me has thus been extremely important, not only in skill-building, but because of the relational aspect—the connections with other association professionals. I love our community because it is such a personable, warm, and welcoming community, and that’s the greatest value I’ve got out of associations as a career path.
BUILD YOUR PERSONAL BRAND
Personal branding is something that I’m really passionate about. I’ve found that the easiest way to start to build a personal brand is through your online presence. A personal brand is really about consistency. One of my keys to getting started in building your brand is to take your CV or your LinkedIn profile, and dive into that and make a consistent presence overall. I really believe in starting with a professional profile picture. If you can invest in one expense as an individual beginning to build your brand, it should be to get a professional headshot and use that everywhere you appear online. It’s okay if it’s the same image, because you’re building up that brand equity for yourself. It’s just like a logo.
You never know where possibilities lie, but by being open to change, volunteering, and building your personal brand, the equity you put into yourself and your professional development will pay off.