Job Hunting? Try a Trade Group
If you're looking to switch jobs, professional and trade groups offer fresh opportunities and could give you a chance to use the expertise you've gained in your first career.
Lynne Thomas Gordon, a registered health information administrator, spent 30 years in the health-care industry, managing departments at hospitals and outpatient centers. Through the years, she was an active volunteer with professional associations such as the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). Last September, Gordon made a career switch -- to CEO of AHIMA.
According to the American Society of Association Executives, there are close to 1 million trade and professional associations in the United States. They offer education, advocacy and networking programs for their members, employing professionals of all sorts. It's not unusual for people like Gordon, who have had long careers in a particular field, to end up working for their trade association.
"My professional, volunteer and teaching positions in health care helped to prepare me for this role," Gordon says. "The switch to leadership in an industry that I am familiar with was logical, due to my background and expertise."
During the economic downturn of the past few years, associations "looked internally at their staff structures to make sure they had the right talent in place," says Christie Tarantino, president and CEO of Association Forum of Chicagoland, a professional organization for association executives. Many groups eliminated staff members who weren't performing or didn't have the necessary skills. "That has created opportunities for people already working in associations as well as those outside," Tarantino says.
Finding a Position
If you're looking for an association job, search the job boards at Association Forum, American Society of Association Executives, or, for senior-level positions, CEO Update, Tarantino suggests. You can also search within organizations where you volunteer or organizations that serve the industry in which you've worked. Most associations have their own online job boards.
As with jobs in any industry, networking is crucial. Get involved in your industry organization, as Gordon did, and when a job becomes available, you may already have an in.
Making the Switch
Working for an association is different from working in the corporate world, Tarantino says, so it's important to be prepared for a paradigm change. "You have to transition from being in industry to reporting to a board of directors [made up of people who may have been your peers]," she says. "It's very different going from being a peer to being a staff person."
New association staffers must understand that the decision-making process is usually very different from that of private industry, Tarantino says. Because associations are made up of members and governed by volunteer boards of directors, there may be many people to answer to.
While working in an association may require a new mindset, it can be an ideal second career. Jack Rives, who served in the legal branch of the U.S. Air Force for 33 years and retired as a three-star Judge Advocate General, took over as executive director of the American Bar Association (ABA) in 2010.
"As I was leaving military service, I wanted to move to a job that would be rewarding and challenging," Rives says. "Through the years, I've known many of the volunteer leaders of the ABA. The position became available at a time when I was beginning to focus on post-Air Force opportunities, and things worked out."
Rives says the work is both rewarding and challenging, as he'd hoped. "I'm very happy with my move to this position," he says.
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