Associations Are a Perfect Fit for Young Professionals

A look at why associations really are uniquely positioned to be employers of choice for today’s millennial employees.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

As a child, did you ever answer “association management professional”?

I didn’t think so.

For me, my first reply was “I want to work at Sea World!” During high school, I’d say “I want to climb the corporate ladder of a Fortune 500 company.” In college, I did a 180 after realizing that I wanted deeply mission-driven work, so I’d say “I want to work for a charity.”

As a profession, association management unmistakably aligns with what many young professionals today seek in their work.

Instead of dolphin trainer, cutthroat CEO, or dutiful fundraiser, I have spent the past 8 years as an association management professional at an international scientific society. I love the work, and I’m thankful that I happened upon it by chance, answering a job ad for a type of organization for which I had never worked, serving a field about which I had never heard. No suits, wet or otherwise, required.

How did you arrive in your association career?

Recall the aptitude tests in school; did “association management” appear in your results set (or anyone’s, for that matter)?

Did you ever have a college professor say “Hey, you should go work at an association!”

Most importantly, did you ever own “Association Management Barbie?” I’m sure I had them all, and I certainly don’t remember her. (But now I’m pondering her accessories—perhaps a can-do attitude and an ASAE membership card?)

Nevertheless, despite association management careers not being top of mind in the daydreams of children, associations are actually uniquely positioned to be employers of choice for young professionals today.

Read the mounds of literature out there [PDF] about millennials in the workplace and one of the consistent, positive themes that emerges is this: We seek intentionality in our work.

We see the workplace differently from those who have come before us. Few of us envision pouring ourselves into traditional 9-to-5s, laboring faithfully at the whims of our bosses only to retire from the same employer in 30 years. Rather, we have decided that if we are to divert energy from our family commitments and personal aspirations, it ought to be toward work that makes use of our natural and acquired skills and perceptibly applies them to make better our communities near and far.

Associations are inherently about betterment. Betterment for our members, helping people grow in their careers. Betterment for our society, furthering research and advancement in the range of career fields we serve. Betterment for our employees, too, holding organizational culture in high regard.

Associations hit a sweet spot for young professionals. They are free from the fiercely competitive, high-stakes settings abundant in for-profit corporations, thus encouraging employees to work collaboratively and allowing them to better balance work with the at-home demands of young families. On the other hand, associations do not live and die by the generosity of charitable donations, and so associations with strong value propositions have customer bases that can weather economic fluctuations, allowing association professionals more security and less focus on acquiring that next dollar to stay afloat.

As ASAE says, “Associations make the world smarter, safer, and better.” As a profession, association management unmistakably aligns with what many young professionals today seek in their work.

Now, go make use of those much-extolled social networking skills to tell your career story to the world. Show your friends who are not working in associations what they are missing. And, while you are at it, do me a favor and see if anyone has posted an Association Management Barbie for sale, because I absolutely want one now.


Tracy Vanneman

By Tracy Vanneman

Tracy L. Vanneman is programs and continuing education services manager at the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) in Bowling Green, Ohio. MORE

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