by Rebecca Lausch
1. Networking In Real Life Still Matters
It’s like this: you can attend a highly selective liberal arts college, graduate at the top of your class, work 90 hours a week drafting impeccable cover letters and grapple with every electronic job application system under the sun—and still find yourself with few to no prospects for professional employment when all is said and done.
For all your blood, sweat and torn-up resumes, it’s simply not enough to stake out a corner of silicon interface and wait for your career to unfold. Even if you are securely employed, the value of face-to-face contact in career networking CANNOT be overestimated, and young professional organizations (YPOs) offer many ways to serve this crucial imperative. From economic forums to community service activities to social events, YPOs sponsor a diverse range of gatherings that provide the chance to make impressions live and in color.
Kristi Gage-Linderman explains: “Immediately after graduating from college and moving back to my hometown, I needed a way to get reconnected—fast.” She joined the Greater Reading (Pennsylvania) Young Professionals and made dozens of new contacts that led her to be nominated to serve on GRYP’s board of directors and contributed to her rising success at her family’s staffing firm.
Graham Garvie, also of YCDC adds: “Effective young professionals understand that it’s not just ‘who you know,’ but it’s also ‘who knows you.’”
2. Practice Makes Perfect
YPOs offer opportunities to demonstrate your work ethic and qualifications beyond a practical skill set. Taking the time to introduce yourself and discuss industry topics is, effectively, interviewing without the pressure of having a formal job offer at stake.
Hone your elevator pitch and know what skills you have to offer. Always be able to articulate what you can offer and what you’re looking for when you meet people. At the end of a conversation, always ask for an introduction to other people who can be helpful. (“Can you introduce me to anyone looking for a [fill in the blank: web designer, freelance writer, foreign policy analyst, etc.]?”) In most professions, employers are looking for people who have strong interpersonal skills, and this is a great way to show it.
Volunteering for a YPO also gives you a chance to demonstrate how well you interact with others and handle professional responsibilities. Writing a newsletter article or coordinating an event shows that you’re willing to take initiative and go above and beyond what’s required.
Garvie advises: “Research the group’s mission, identify your niche and add value. I recently led a team to monetize high-impact job postings on YCDC.org and develop our first revenue stream.”
3. Gain Knowledge of the Business Community
Corporate connections are important to every professional, whether you’re interested in non-profit management, government agency work or launching a high-tech startup. Moreover, learning key tenets of business strategy can be important to your long-term success. Whether you have a strong academic background in business or only limited knowledge of the subject, YPOs are usually populated with some seasoned business professionals who know how to keep cash flow in the black, plus some. These people like to talk about their work and mentor young ambition. Take the opportunity to listen, observe and ask questions.
Mike Swanson, also of Greater Reading Young Professionals, comments: “The idea is not to be the center of the party, but rather engage with the intent to learn. You want to exhibit a watchful style and absorb as much as you can from those around you.”
Whatever their product or service may be, business leaders are successful at the same things any professional wants to be successful at: recognizing needs in a given demographic and being competitive at serving them.
4. Strength in Numbers
We live in a day and age where establishing a presence in any given career field often demands working long hours in the office and bringing work home when the doors close. The stereotype of the young, unmarried 20-something saddled with boundless energy and drive, blazing his or her way through the company ranks on coffee and handshakes, may be attractive to an extent, but it can be exhausting at the same time.
At the end of the day, you may have ideas for cultivating partnerships, yet not feel up to shouldering all the responsibility to organize them. Managing a club or group can feel like a second full-time job. “YPOs offer the benefit of having an organization that does half the work for you,” says Maxted.
In a strong YPO, you have access to an established support system of experienced people who are motivated to get things done. Couple this with an established network of point people at local restaurants and meeting places, and the battle is half-won.
5. Legislative Impact
The benefits of a YPO membership are not limited to leveraging your network and enjoying free snacks and drinks at sponsored events. Many YPOs have committees and subgroups dedicated to promoting dialogue between young professionals, local businesses and elected officials. There is often ample opportunity to get involved and influence legislation from the grassroots level on up. In addition, these committees often organize panels and forums as non-partisan venues to inform members on important issues in the community.
6. Love What You Do
Matthew J. Wright of Reading, Pennsylvania, made the point about the importance of finding work that you love to do: “You may not even know that you love something, but it’s important to be proactive about things you discover on the journey. Don’t wait until you’re laid off to discover something you really love.”
Participating in a YPO can provide you with a low-risk way to try out different careers and learn new skills. Your day job might be at a bank, but if you suspect you would make a good social media manager, you can try to volunteer for your local YPO in that capacity to see whether you have the skills and passion to succeed in a different field.
Think about it: it’s a Young Professional Organization. Membership is organized around the theme of being young (almost always an advantage) and motivated to advance professionally. These are very good qualities to have in common with people.