Design Membership to Take Students From College to Career

A new crop of graduates is about to enter the workforce, and associations can help ease their transitions from students to professionals. Here are three ways associations can support young people just starting out in their field.

In the coming weeks, college campuses around the country will be buzzing with the fanfare of graduation, a time when many students officially transition into the workforce. Speaking from experience, as someone who graduated at the peak of the 2008 recession, I know the college-to-career experience can be bumpy.

While the job market is much more promising for the Class of 2019 than it was when I graduated, this year’s grads will still have many anxieties and questions as they leave school: Did I pick the right career path? Should I pursue an advanced degree? How do I make connections in the field I’m about to enter?

Associations are in a good position to help students manage this transition and get answers to some of those questions, and smart organizations welcome them with personalized resources, events, and member categories. Here are examples from a few associations.

First-Timer and Student-in-Transition Tiers

What we already know is that young people are eager to join associations, but they won’t stay if they don’t find value in membership. In a recent Personify survey [PDF] of more than 1,000 young association members, only 40 percent said their member experience was worth the dues they paid. Meanwhile, only 15 percent said they attended their association’s annual meeting or conference, usually because of cost. The study suggests that associations need to find ways to help ease the sticker shock for young professionals.

One solution: a no-risk membership preview, like the free “first-timer” option that the American Physical Society offers students while they’re still enrolled in their studies. A similar offer could be applied to meeting registration to boost student attendance at your next conference. And for retention purposes, you could consider adding a “student-in-transition” membership tier. Meeting Professionals International offers this option for graduates in their first, second, or third year on the job.

Personalized Content

The Personify study also noted that many associations lack relevant content and resources for young members. Nearly two-thirds of young members said that most of the content they received from their association was written by “someone who doesn’t understand how people my age think.” Speaking to target audiences in the right voice can make content feel more relevant.

Taking the time to listen to graduates’ common concerns is another way to match content to young members’ needs. For instance, the American Psychological Association’s Garth Fowler receives a flurry of emails from college graduates every June, mainly from those who didn’t get into the psychology graduate school of their choice. Two years ago, he created a blog that answers some of the most common questions about the admissions process. He writes from experience, as someone who’s reviewed hundreds of graduate applications, providing a “roadmap for success” complete with road sign graphics to drive home the point.

Early-Career Networking

Almost nine out of 10 young members responding to the Personify survey said professional networking was an important reason to join an association. Networking comes in many forms, but for civic-minded young professionals, political advocacy can provide a compelling networking experience. The American Dental Association, for example, recently held a combined member fly-in with the American Student Dental Association. In addition to supporting its annual lobby-day goals, the event sparked day-long career and networking conversations between experienced dentists and dental students transitioning into the profession.

Have you made changes to member events, resources, or categories that make membership more appealing to recent grads? Did it help recruit and retain young members? Post your comments below.

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Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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