How did I get here? Navigating a Career in the Association World
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
How many times have you heard this cool Ferris Bueller quote and actually stopped to look around? Can you do so right now? What do you see? What are you reflecting on?
As a proud working Mom who is trying to maintain a daily balance, I have made it my goal to stop, look around, reflect, and enjoy my life, family, and career. (I’m still trying to drink enough water, exercise, write more thoughtful handwritten thank you notes, and get 8 hours of sleep.)
When I had just graduated from college and acted on a job ad in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (yes, a print newspaper) for a role at an association management company, I made it to the final round of interviews and…didn’t get the job. So, I applied again 3 weeks later for a different role at the company. (Side note: when a human resources director tells you they will keep your resume on file for a future opportunity, don’t wait for them to get back to you, take the initiative.)
On my second try, I was hired! I knew nothing about association management, but the hiring manager took a chance on me. Thank you, Kim Stanton, CAE. More than 17 years later, I still love this industry that I “landed in” and am beyond grateful for the chance that was taken on me. In my recent reflections, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that I hope can be helpful for others.
Membership is everyone’s job.
I work happily in an operations role at AMC. Prior to my time here, I held a number of membership roles including chapter development with the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) and membership marketing with Association Forum. From what I’ve observed over the years, if I were a magic title fairy, I would alter all association professional’s titles to add a little membership magic: director of education & member experience, operations & customer service coordinator, chief people pleaser, etc. Our roles exist because of our members and customers—plain and simple. Every action we take—be it through emails, committee calls, setting up registration, producing webinars, forecasting, market development, planning an annual conference, etc.—adds to the total touch points throughout a member cycle. A member’s or customer's experience with any one team member or the team as a whole could determine their decisions to renew or move on. Never doubt the impressions the smallest actions can make—you have a big hand in their engagement regardless of your title or department.
Personal brand is important.
Another favorite quote of mine is “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” Each day, we bring a version of ourselves that leaves an impact: the way we contribute and speak in meetings, how we conduct a conference call, and the thought that goes into emails that we send. When we look at who we are personally and professionally, we need to bring our best versions every day. It’s about not waiting for the right time in the future; the right time is now. We don’t get a “do over” for life, and it’s certainly not a rehearsal.
At my first association role in Chicago I worked as a membership & program coordinator for the Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF), a professional association for executive women and emerging leaders in the food service industry. I’ll admit, I was completely inspired by the board members and volunteers I worked with—they had presence. Many of them had a signature “look,” which I think can be a fun part of your personal brand. And that’s important—have a little fun with the way you present yourself to the world. Ultimately, how do you want to be thought of? What value do you bring to the table? Take cues from people in your company, your industry, and even outside of your industry and observe their habits.
I’m lucky to have worked with Christine Melendes, CAE, vice president, strategic events & partnerships at the Association for Corporate Growth, twice in my association career, both at the WFF and PCMA. She has a work style that I admire: the ability to create a balance in responsibilities while retaining a sense of fun and authentic personality. She taught me the importance of strong customer service, how to look at all angles of a project, and the power of teamwork to develop creative solutions. On top of it, I now count her as a good friend.
Never stop reading.
No matter what industry you’re in, it’s valuable to take inspiration from outside influences or experiences different than your own; something to flip your thinking or make you look at things through a different lens. The simplest way to get that exposure…READING! When reading the business section of a daily newspaper, you will find crossover in areas of your associations and be better informed for your members and customers if you understand the environmental factors affecting their industries. I’ve come to rely on theSkimm; delivered to my inbox every morning, it breaks down the most important news in an easy, digestible format.
As a working Mom, I’ve had to create a daily space and time for reading, whether that be 15, 30, or 60 minutes. Some is better than none. This last year, I set a reading goal for myself and I’m on track (fingers crossed) to complete 20 books in 2018. In the spirit of sharing, here are a few non-fiction reads I recommend:
- Hillbilly Elegy
- Janesville: An American Story
- The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After
- Pivot Point: Reshaping Your Business When it Matters Most
Relationship building is key!
Getting to know and understand your members, suppliers, and partners is vital—it’s the foundation upon which trust is built and informs all of your work moving forward. Keep up with former colleagues; try checking in on LinkedIn with a happy birthday or congrats on a new role. Set a goal for reaching out to contacts throughout the year. Share other’s content on social channels—be an active cheerleader for your favorite partners, convention bureaus, and suppliers.
Lastly, have fun with your role and the people you work with. Life is short.
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