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Why Bother Joining a Professional Association?

I just don’t have the time.

We all say it, or at least think it, every day. We have to make some hard decisions on how we use our available time. We have to prioritize.

Our jobs and careers demand that we set priorities, too. I hear it every day from friends and colleagues – especially when they try to explain why they aren’t more involved with their industry associations.

why_join_associationsWhy bother, some ask. My time is better spent running my business, or building my career. And there are so many options, others say. Why make the effort? How do I know which ones are worth the effort, or worth a slice of my busy schedule?

We “bother” with industry groups because it’s good business to do so. We “make the effort” because organizations that match our interests and goals help us grow and develop professionally, and to perform better for those we serve. We get involved because doing so provides a unique opportunity to find the personal satisfaction that so often differentiates the highly successful business leaders from those who merely do a job.  

Over my career, I’ve chosen to make active engagement with various groups of like-minded professionals an important part of how I spend my time. Organizations, such as the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESC), have helped me professionally as a search consultant – and personally. I suspect that’s why groups like AESC continue to grow and play such an important role in so many careers – and lives.

Professionally, I gain on several levels. I gain easy access to some of the best minds in my chosen profession – smart people, sharing knowledge and ideas about how to do our jobs better…how to learn and adapt to respond to the changing expectations of my clients…how to deliver the results that make my business grow. The give-and-take process helps me see the possibilities and potential within my business. The resources developed long the way help me capture them.

It also gives me the chance to give back. Through various committees and work groups, I help shape the thinking and develop the resources that make the entire profession better. Industry events provide opportunities to focus – to take a step back from the day-to-day to think and reflect with like-minded people. I can’t tell you how many times this kind of focused immersion in my chosen profession has helped me see things that could have gone unseen in the hurly-burly of daily work.

Making time for AESC means I can share my own experience and the lessons learned along the way. AESC has provided me with a unique opportunity to learn from the best – from the seasoned pros with decades of experience and the insights that come with it, and from the younger generation with fresh perspectives and a “why not” mindset.

The philosophy behind AESC and organizations like it is rooted in certain shared beliefs. One is that we all have something to contribute to this shared effort at learning and improvement. Maybe more important, we all believe that when our profession raises its game, we all benefit.

By working together in this shared effort, we’re doing more than learning. It also enables us to pursue a higher performance standard – and in the process creates an expectation of competence and commitment clients can see and trust. The learning and development resources created in this process of collective engagement provide a kind of professional canon – a collection of guidelines and principles through which all executive search professionals can be judged. Clients and candidates see the AESC name and know they are dealing with individuals and groups of people working hard to grow and develop professionally, and to meet rigorous standards of excellence.

Being part of the industry effort to perform at a higher level is a pretty strong signal that we take pride in our profession and value more than individual self-interest. That commitment helps us live up to the promise we make to work as partners with our clients, not merely vendors. It shows clearly that we are part of something bigger than just ourselves. It tells our clients that we are worth the investment, and worthy of their trust.

In the process, it also helps build the professional prestige that makes our industry an attractive career path for the best and brightest. We all want to present executive search as a high-value service that plays a critical role in finding, developing and keeping top-performing leadership. We want our clients to see us as consummate professionals, with superior skills and resources. But we also want the best and brightest men and women – whether those just coming from college, or established professionals looking for that next upward career step – to see executive search exactly the same way. Groups like AESC play a major role in building precisely that perception.

Over the years, I’ve also discovered that my connection to AESC and groups like it has an added benefit:  an ability to connect more effectively with potential candidates.

Candidates, like clients, deserve respect and consideration. They need to know that when an executive search professional reaches out to them, they will be treated not as a commodity but as an individual, with courtesy and attention, and with a certain standard of professionalism. Being part of a group like AESC helps establish the professional credentials that reassure candidates – not to mention helping guide my interaction not just with the final candidate, but also with all candidates. That approach has enabled me to build the kind of relationships with talented individuals that serve me well when I have the next search assignment, and the next, and the next. It makes me a better, more trusted ambassador of whatever employer brand I represent, too.

Yes, I wish I had more time. We all do. But what is important in using our time wisely – on things that help us in our jobs, and things that help us find the personal satisfaction that brings a healthy work-life balance. Groups like AESC have provided exactly that balance for me. You might want to give it a try.

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About the author

James Zaniello's picture

Jim Zaniello is president and founder of Vetted Solutions, a Washington, D.C.-based executive search firm specializing in serving the leadership needs of associations, nonprofit organizations, hospitality and destination marketing industries nationwide.

Zaniello possesses a unique understanding of the executive search process, developed through more than two decades in positions ranging from nonprofit executive director to publisher of the leading tool for nonprofit executive search.

For 10 years, Zaniello conducted searches at Association Strategies, Inc., a leading Washington, DC-area executive search firm focusing exclusively on associations and nonprofits. As vice president at ASI, he oversaw all facets of the search process, from candidate identification to compensation negotiation to successful on-boarding. Throughout his tenure at ASI, he leveraged his deep network of contacts to successfully fill dozens of executive-level nonprofit positions.

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