As I have done on many occasions, I was recently having a conversation with an HR representative of an organization that employs several Saint Vincent graduates. I asked this individual what makes some recent graduates more attractive candidates for jobs than others. His response to me was one word: experience.
After our conversation, I reflected on this quite a bit and recalled earlier conversations I’ve had with students about entry-level jobs. In one such conversation, I was speaking with a first-semester senior who asked me why many “entry-level” HR jobs always seemed to require 1-2 years of work experience. Part of this answer is, of course, that employers want entry-level employees to have had at least an internship prior to full-time employment.
And yet internships can be tough to come by in a highly competitive environment. But, as bad as this may sound, sometimes to get an internship students find that it’s both what you know and also who you know. This proves difficult to students with no workplace connections so, in order to get to know people who work in a particular field, I recommend networking.
Unfortunately, many people focus exclusively on social media such as LinkedIn or Facebook when attempting to network. While social media has its uses, it should not be relied on as the exclusive channel for professional networking. Face-to-face channels are more effective because they show potential employers that would-be applicants have some positive social skills and are serious about building a career.
I confess that I am not in my personal comfort zone when networking so something that makes it easier for me is to be involved in professional organizations (groups of people interested in a particular profession or industry who discuss important trends in their respective fields). Some professional organizations that I personally am involved with are the Westmoreland Human Resource Association, Pittsburgh Human Resource Association, APICS and the Academy of Management among others.
I have previously also been involved with the Project Management Institute, Association for Talent Development, Institute of Internal Auditors and Institute of Management Accountants. I am currently vice president of the Institute for Supply Management Pittsburgh affiliate and, this month, will be leading a networking session at our monthly dinner meeting. By the way, I recommend all of these organizations for those interested in their professions.
Professional organizations are important and I advocate all of my students to get involved with associations that interest them. However, professional organizations aren’t necessarily just for students seeking employment. They can benefit almost everyone at all career stages. Here are some reasons why I advocate getting involved.
- Certification - Many professional organizations offer certifications. Such certifications show employers that individuals have a solid knowledge of a particular field and that they are dedicated to growth and learning by taking the initiative to study and pass a certification exam. Some jobs require specific certifications while others that do not may still look favorably on candidates who possess such credentials.
- Education - Most certifications require continuing education hours in order to maintain them. Such education hours can be earned by participating in the programs of professional organizations such as dinner meetings, seminars and webinars. Beyond maintaining certification, though, participating in such events helps newcomers learn more about a profession and more experienced professionals further enhance their skills.
- Networking - As already mentioned above, meetings and events of professional organizations are great places to meet other like-minded professionals interested in talking about their experiences and potentially interested in helping others find employment. I can think of dozens of occasions in which students of mine attended professional organization events and connected with someone who helped form their career.
Employers and professional organizations should focus on getting emerging professionals involved. Employers need to support professional organization membership in order to facilitate the exchange of ideas and enable knowledge transfer between mature employees and less-experienced individuals. Professional organizations must also effectively recruit new members to remain vibrant communities that continue to be on the cutting edge of a particular profession.
What do you think? Do you belong to any professional organizations and, if so, how have they helped your career? Have I convinced you to become a member of an organization? If so, which one? Let me know your thoughts! Email me at email@example.com, connect through Facebook (www.facebook.com/urickmj), add me on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/pub/michael-urick/a3/775/5b/), or type a message in the comments below.