How did I get here? Navigating a Career in the Association World

How did I get here? Navigating a Career in the Association World

By Megan Drumm, MBA CAE

I started working in association management by chance, but my decision to keep working in association management has been very much by choice. Here are 4 steps of my association career thus far.

Craigslist is full of great stuff—even a job that can lead to a career.

When I graduated from college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for work. After spending more than a year in an entry-level job, I decided it was time for a change. When I came across a medical association marketing coordinator position on Craigslist, it looked like a good fit (even if I didn’t quite know what an association was). While interviewing, I was struck by how much I liked the people I would be working with and by the opportunities for advancement within the growing organization. The job itself seemed exciting, and if I accepted the position, I would join the team for an upcoming conference in San Diego. It was January in Chicago. They made me an offer, and I eagerly accepted it.

Moving up by getting lucky and raising my hand.

I was promoted quickly from that first coordinator role in part because I volunteered to take on new projects and responsibilities. My most meaningful promotion came after I took on a coworker’s responsibilities during her short-term leave. Taking on extra work while carrying out your normal job duties can be challenging, but it can also be an excellent opportunity to showcase your capabilities. I dove into those job responsibilities, and when that same job became vacant, I asked to be considered for the position.

Investing early in career advancement goals that can pay off in the long run.

Career planning is always hard, especially when you’re in the early stages. It can be difficult to imagine what your life will be like in a year (maybe you’ll get engaged, become a fitness instructor, or join friends living and teaching English in France . . . all possibilities I entertained early on), let alone 3, 5, or 10 years down the line. With the encouragement of my first association manager and mentor, I decided to pursue my MBA and subsequently my CAE. Working full time and studying during lunch breaks, evenings, and weekends for the better part of 5 years was tough. But today, as my husband and I prepare to welcome our second child, I am thankful that the GMAT, semester-long group projects, and practice exams are behind me. Pursuing these degrees helped me grow professionally and opened new doors for me.

Actively choosing to foster a career in association management.

Craigslist helped me stumble into my first association management job, but being in grad school helped me make a conscious decision to choose association management as a career path. As my graduation approached, I knew I wanted to take a step up in my career. But I asked myself, should I look for association work or join most of my classmates at a corporate for-profit? After months of job searching and agonizing over whether to accept different offers, I finally realized that the positions I was considering didn’t provide what I enjoyed most about associations: contributing to a mission-driven organization and working with volunteer leaders, who are some of the most accomplished individuals in their respective fields and so dedicated to their profession that they offer the little free time they have to advance their association and industry. To me, a supportive, team-based, and mission-driven culture is the hallmark of an association workplace, and it’s where I feel at home and most capable of success.

I’m thankful for finding associations and for the many people who encouraged me—and continue to encourage me—to take intentional steps towards advancing an association management career. Reflecting on how I got here makes me excited to see what’s to come. I’m confident that working for associations and a dedicated association management company like AMC will continue delivering advancement opportunities while contributing to organizations whose volunteer leaders and missions I am proud to serve.

For anyone considering entering the association industry or taking the next step in their association career, here are a few tips:

  • Informational interviews can give you amazing insight. Seek out people in your network who are working at organizations or in job roles that interest you and reach out to see if they can spare 30 minutes.
  • Check out the associations that serve you academically or professionally. Engaging as an association member and volunteer can help shape your understanding of the value associations provide.
  • AMC is a great place to work, and it seems like we always have exciting job openings. Check them out.

Meg Drumm, MBA CAE, is a director of marketing and communications at AMC.

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