Is Joining a Professional Group Worth the Price of Admission?

Julie Shenkman
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Membership in a professional group can have a positive impact on your career. Many groups provide everything from networking opportunities to job referrals. Before you invest a chunk of your next paycheck into a membership fee, however, it is important to weigh the cost of admission against the group's benefits and your personal situation.

For some professionals, the single determining factor in the choice to join an organization is the cost. If you are living paycheck to paycheck or dealing with an otherwise strained financial situation, the extra money may not be worth the benefits. When an association's membership costs cut into your budget for basic necessities such as housing and food, put off joining until you have more disposable income.

One of the most important reasons to join a professional group is to take advantage of the networking opportunities it provides. Before you plunk down the membership fee, look at the events the group sponsors. Do they happen frequently? Are they well attended? Look at the schedule on the group's website to ensure that it is updated regularly. Then, stop by one of the events to see how many people are in attendance and gauge the mood of the room. If you don't feel welcome or if you notice that members tend to isolate themselves in small groups, proceed with caution.

Many professional associations provide professional development opportunities, such as workshops, courses and conferences. If you are planning to use your membership in a professional group to help with skills development, check out the options that are on offer. Note whether the courses cover topics that pertain to your interests, the schedule and the associated fees. If you are required to pay full course fees in addition to the group fee, it may not be worth it.

As you are evaluating a professional group, look at the employment resources it provides to members. When you're looking for a job, a members-only job board or a special job referral service can make the membership costs worth the price. Other services to look for include mentor programs, job-hunting workshops and employment-focused networking events. These factors indicate that the professional group is dedicated to helping its members succeed.

Before you join a group, consider also the things you want out of it personally. Do you want a group that is friendly and informal or highly organized and professional? Are you looking to build your professional network or find more opportunities for socializing? In many cases, the easiest way to gauge whether the group is worth the price of admission is to attend a meeting. Listen carefully, observe how people interact and note how you feel; if you hate the atmosphere or you feel bored, it may not be a good choice for you.

When it comes to professional memberships, not all options are created equal. By evaluating a professional group in terms of the way it can improve your career, you can determine whether or not its fees are worth the cost.

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