While there is some value in attending support groups for the unemployed, they won't have the career connecting powers of membership in a professional association.
And here's why: typically, nearly everyone involved in a professional association is gainfully employed and active in their field. Therefore, nearly everyone you meet could potentially provide you with an inside tip about a job opportunity.
Realistically, people don't join an association so that someday they'll find someone else a job. It's typically for one of three reasons: it looks good on their resume, it keeps them up-to-date with changes in their field of expertise, or it allows them to meet other professionals whom they could someday do business/work with.
Where Do You Start?
- Search for professional or trade associations that are specific to the field of work you're interested in.
- If you're in a remote area, try your local Rotary Club and consider looking for more specific associations online.
- Once you identify the association you think would be a good fit, attend a meeting before joining.
- Upon joining, get to know and keep in touch with the welcoming committee member who initially contacts you. They are likely well-versed in the services, events, and information managed by the association.
Making It Work
Here are some key etiquette tips to your membership success:
- Be a visible volunteer - either with events, communications and/or logistics.
- At your first visit, tell the association or group coordinator that you're new and considering joining, then ask for some good introductions. Collect business cards and don't forget follow-up "nice to meet you" notes or emails after the meeting.
- Find the "influencers." The welcoming committee chair is well-connected within the group and can save you time by introducing you to the most influential members.
- Being discreet - avoid group announcements of your unemployed job status. Instead, explain one-on-one that you're in transition. You'll want to be seen as a peer before you're seen as someone who's unemployed. If it comes up, casually mention where you used to work, and that you're currently taking time off, and leave it at that.
- Think long-term. Don't join an association expecting to get job tips at every meeting. Ultimately, the purpose of joining is to establish a network of like-minded peers. Once you've established yourself among the group, quietly let people know that you're looking for work.
Before you know it, someone will be tapping you on the shoulder to let you know about a new job that will be opening up soon.