No matter what your profession, you have probably heard about professional associations related to your field. Below is a general overview that tackles some frequently asked questions regarding what professional associations are all about.

What is a professional association?

A professional association is an organization that works on behalf of the professionals involved in the association’s particular field. Think of it as an advocate for professionals in your field. Professional organizations are a tool to help you make the most of your career.

What do professional associations do?

Professional organizations play various roles depending on your chosen field. They can lobby on your behalf in Congress. They can be an excellent resource about the latest trends, especially if they have a newsletter or magazine. Some professional organizations even offer member discounts on various products and services. One thing most professional organizations do is add clout to its associated field.

How much do professional associations cost?

One of the downsides of joining a professional association is that it usually costs money. The reason is that members must pay up is that a professional association needs funds in order to run and thrive. You are paying for all of the benefits that the association has to offer. But what exactly are the annual costs? Well, it depends on the organization. For example, the Society of Professional Journalists costs $75 a year. However, the American Dental Assistant Association (ADAA) only costs $30 a year.

When is the right time to join a professional association?

There is no right or wrong time to join a professional association. But people often join professional associations when they feel the need to further their career. One of the main reasons people join professional associations is to network with well-respected members in their field. Many professional associations hold conferences so hardworking professionals can gather, swap horror stories and network. Some professional associations also utilize a members-only job bank. For example, the Society of Professional Journalists offers a members-only job bank. Employers hope to weed out those who aren’t driven members of their profession.

Many students decide to join a professional association in college. It gives students a chance to start networking before they leave the classroom. Also, many organizations offer student discounts on membership. They hope to gain lifelong members early.

Are there any other benefits to joining a professional association?

Yes, there are additional benefits to joining a professional association. Professional organizations can help make sure you are protected if someone decides to take legal action. For example, if you are a dental assistant and a member of the American Dental Assistant Association (ADAA) you are covered under the ADAA liability insurance. That means if you are named in a lawsuit, you are covered. Many dentists cover their employees under an umbrella plan, but the ADAA liability insurance covers in personal lawsuits as well.

So… what do I do now?

Start researching the professional associations in your field. Weigh the annual fee with the potential benefits. Talk to those with careers you admire and see what organizations they belong to. It only takes a little research to jumpstart your career.