Someone Said “Get Involved.” Now What?

How to Join Young Professional Organizations to Promote your Career, Company and Clients

A few years ago if someone said I should “get involved” I would have immediately imagined awkwardly shuffling around a room of strangers and making dreaded small talk. Worse, they might have called it “networking.”

Why do I need to get involved? I work hard, have an active social life and I volunteer. I didn’t understand how spending time listening to speakers in the basement of the chamber of commerce or sipping cocktails with other twenty-somethings would benefit my career, company or clients.

When I moved back to Boise in 2011 from college, I was new to the professional environment, so I joined every group that boasted about increased community involvement. This included Boise Young Professionals as well as many other networking groups throughout the Treasure Valley. Too many.

At first it was intimidating. I endured social hours filled with crowds of people I didn’t know and a vast array of new faces at each event. I signed up for a few planning committees. I approached people and introduced myself. And finally, something happened: Those “awkward encounters” I used to fear became something I looked forward to.

After a few years of participating with diverse young professional organizations, I’ve learned the big secret. “Networking” is just jargon, code for making new friends, supporting your community, building connections and establishing professional credibility. The work-life bonus: These connections help me promote clients and establish important partnerships for them as well.

When peers ask for advice on how to get involved, I often encourage them to connect with professional development groups, volunteer opportunities and community civic engagement organizations. But after joining everything I could find and experiencing some of those painfully uncomfortable encounters, I have refined my advice into five quick tips.

#1  Do Your Research

There are dozens of networking programs in every community. This includes general groups as well as very specialized, niche organizations. In Boise alone, we have Boise Young Professionals, Go Lead Idaho, Capital City Communicators, Global Shapers, the Idaho Press Club, PRSA, Toastmasters, Executive Women’s Golf Association, Young Professional Meet Ups and many more.

And yes, I joined them all.

While each community is different, organizations both big and small exist for the sole purpose of helping individuals get involved. Take the time to explore each opportunity and find what’s right for you.

#2  Put Some Effort Into It

Signing up for an organization’s newsletter but never attending events or getting involved in their projects means you won’t meet any new people, or learn anything about your community. Baby steps, people. As you’re getting started, try for one activity per month. And when you go, don’t just knock back a drink and leave. Push yourself to actually say hi to new people and learn about them. If an unstructured event is stressful to you, join a work team and take advantage of meeting small groups of people in an organized setting.

S. Sestero Zoo

Sophie feeding a giraffe at a Zoo Boise event, during which members learned about conservation.

#3  Find Your Fun

Free time is precious. Make sure you are participating in events and programs you enjoy. Young professional organizations usually offer a variety of involvement styles to address this very issue. If the idea of sitting through a preview of the mayor’s “state of the city” address sounds dull, consider joining a volunteer team to get outside and clean up a community garden. Identify what you’re passionate about and spend your time in those areas. If you’re not sure what sounds fun, try a few different activities until you discover your favorites.

#4  Become A Leader

After you’ve found your niche within a professional development group, step up and take over some added responsibilities. Join a work team, plan a program, coordinate an event or show leadership in another way. By acting as an ambassador for other young professionals looking to get involved and inviting them to events, you will help your organization expand and remain successful.

#5  Don’t Spread Yourself Thin

The more you learn about excellent programs and opportunities within professional development organizations, the more you’ll want to get involved. Plus, when you establish friendships with other members, it becomes difficult to turn down opportunities. Don’t stretch yourself too thin. It’s important to maintain a balance of work, networking and personal life.

After a few years of joining every young professional group I could find, I’ve learned to cut down on the number I participate with. Now I spend more quality time with just a few organizations I’m passionate about, which has been a benefit personally and professionally.

As the Fahlgren Mortine Boise office grows, engaging with community events has been an outlet to help the community familiarize with our team and what we work on. And as for clients, it has helped them develop partnerships in other industries and connect with totally new audiences throughout the city.

Now, go out and get involved!

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