A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Cozy with Industry Organizations
When I moved from Pennsylvania to Austin back in March, I was a total fish out of water. I knew very few people in the city, and didn’t have so much as an interview lined up.
I learned pretty quickly that getting involved with local organizations for creative professionals would be key to lining up a job. Now that I have nearly a year of involvement with AD2ATX under my belt, I can truly appreciate the value of my membership. Participating in the group didn’t just help me make friends, it brought freelance opportunities and job openings directly to me.
Now that I’m gainfully employed, my membership helps me keep a finger on the pulse of Austin’s creative community, alerting me to industry events, workshops, conferences, and more. Most of all, it helps me get the word out about my work and my abilities.
So, how do you get involved?
First, do some window shopping. Most organizations charge a nominal fee each year, but membership comes with perks like discounted tickets to industry events, and access to their network. It’s perfectly fine to join more than one group, but if you’re on a budget, take stock of what each organization has to offer. Checking out their Facebook pages should give you an idea of their following and whether their events are well-attended. Speaking of events: do the topics interest you? You’re not just attending to meet people—you’re also there to learn, grow and hone your skills.
Once you’ve found the group(s) you’re most interested in, go to an event. Some organizations, such as the Austin affiliate of Ad2, offer free happy hours. Attending one of these free-entry shindigs can help you get a feel for the people involved, and answer any questions you may have. If you like what you see, become a member and let the good times roll.
Simply becoming a member is great, but…
…it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Get the most out of your fees by volunteering.
AIGA, for example, is a professional association for designers with members and events all across the country. Each chapter puts on several events each year that require help from their members. Tasks can include anything from manning a registration desk to contributing to the event’s branding. If you’re a designer, consider the latter. By volunteering your time and skills, your work will be seen by other professionals, and you might even get a few new pieces for your portfolio. Not to mention the invaluable help you’ll be providing to an organization that’s focused on your professional needs.
Once you’ve identified your favorite organization, you could join the board! That doesn’t mean you have to run for the presidency, of course. AIGA Austin’s board, for example, is made up of both executive members and task forces. Similarly, the Women Communicators of Austin and American Marketing Association in Austin are well-oiled machines made up of various committees and volunteer positions.
Prefer a more executive role? That’s cool, too! Start off on the local level and see where it takes you. Many organizations, such as the Austin Ad Fed, funnel into a national board, with regional positions along the way. Climbing this ladder is an excellent way to get involved in your industry on a larger scale, and advocate on its behalf. Plus, national groups often hold retreats or conferences, which gives local board members the opportunity to meet professionals from across the country.
What about the pitfalls of involvement?
Obviously, your level of participation will be dependent on how much time you have on your hands. While it can be incredibly rewarding, volunteering is a commitment—one that should be taken seriously.
Before pledging your help, evaluate your current schedule and figure out a reasonable amount of time to set aside each week or month. Once you’ve offered your help, it’s important to follow through, which means prioritizing your volunteer responsibilities along with your day job, family time and other obligations.
Volunteering is a commitment—one that should be taken seriously.
If you’re worried that not volunteering will affect your standing within the organization, don’t be. It reflects far less poorly on you to be honest about your availability than it does to leave them hanging after you’ve already committed.
If you decide to volunteer and then find yourself overwhelmed with the work, or decide it’s not quite right for you, communicate with your committee or board. Simply dropping off the face of the planet is a great way to burn bridges. Instead, make every attempt to finish out the rest of your commitment. If it’s a case of feeling like you’re in over your head, work with your team to delegate, or recruit new members to help with the workload. If parting ways is the only solution, be humble.
Again, it’s vital to communicate and come up with a game plan. Be sure that loose ends are tied up and that you aren’t leaving the organization hanging. Express your gratitude for the opportunity and offer your apologies.
Watch your mouth, kid.
Another word of caution: tread lightly while networking if you’re looking to jump ship from your current agency. Word spreads fast in the creative industry. You never know who knows a guy who knows a guy…at your company. Don’t let the news get out before you want it to!
And speaking of loose lips, similar caution should be exercised when discussing your company. You may be tempted to compare or commiserate about work, but be mindful of your attitude. Besides the fact that anything you say has the potential to make its way back to your boss, the person you’re talking to may be someone who could get you through a door down the line. Do you want their first impression to be that you’re a complainer, or someone who is generally negative? Of course not!
Now, reap the rewards.
Once you find the organization that’s right for you, and decide on a comfortable level of involvement, enjoy! Meet as many folks as you can and use your membership to learn and grow.
Your fellow members may be helpful down the line in providing references, offering introductions and more. If you join a committee or serve on the board, make sure to mention it on your resume. And remember: every happy hour, event, or volunteer opportunity is a chance for your peers to get to know more about you—and your many talents!
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