Those that are the most passionate about technology often seek out opportunities for further learning beyond what their day jobs bring. Some choose to research topics of interest at home or to start personal projects, while others may opt for the potentially more social option of user groups and associations. Either choice can have a great deal of value to your career development and may be a wise method to fill in any cracks in your skill set, but being a part of a group has particular advantages.
One obvious benefit of groups and associations is the opportunity to network. There have been countless articles written about the perceived necessity of networking in order to secure employment in the future, and the ability to interact with a group that has a direct connection to your profession is undeniably more valuable than random encounters at a social event.
Another advantage of a group setting is the ability to keep track on industry trends and inside information on other companies in your field. When you hear others within the group continuously discussing new technologies that you have not worked with or even heard of, there may be a chance that your company's choices are limiting your exposure to what may become important skills down the line. You may also learn how other companies are solving problems that your organization is currently experiencing.
Groups often have relationships with industry vendors that could also serve as an additional benefit to membership. For example, many groups may have an affiliation with publishers in order to get discounts on books. Other organizations could be offered reduced admission rates for conferences or events. Vendors will often target professional associations due to the influence they have on the industry, and this often results in savings for the members.
Lastly, your participation in a recognized group will add to your overall credibility as a professional within the industry. Hiring managers and recruiters that are tasked with screening resumes and evaluating talent will perceive your group membership as a sign of interest in the technology and dedication to your career. If you have delivered a presentation to the group or held a leadership position within the organization, that will often result in an even higher level of associated credibility.
When I ask candidates about their participation in professional groups, I am often told that their particular geographic area doesn't currently have a relevant group. If you fall into this category and your natural reaction is “Oh well, I tried”, think again. Instead of viewing this as a lost opportunity to join a group, think of it as a unique opportunity to be a founder and group leader. If you think that members get career benefits, I can tell you first-hand that the founders get even more benefits.
Don't believe me? Here is a bit of backstory. I founded a regional technology user group in 2000 and have served as president ever since, growing the group to over 1,300 members. The group has been recognized twice by a worldwide vendor as one of the best user groups of its kind worldwide, and we have attracted well-known US and international speakers. Over the years I have witnessed these professionals growing their skill sets, seen how trends in the industry could have been predicted by observing the habits of our most knowledgable members, and discovered how valuable the relationships formed over time have been to those who lost their jobs or sought greener pastures.
Seek out local or national groups in order to network, learn, and benefit from your membership.
Dave Fecak is a recruiter, blogger, writer, and technology user group leader that has spent the last 15 years helping companies attract, evaluate, and hire talent. His Job Tips For Geeks (link http://jobtipsforgeeks.com) blog and book (link http://jobtipsforgeeks.com/book) feature content about resumes, interview tips, technology industry trends, and anything related to helping tech pros maximize their careers.