Insights From a Strategic Young Association Professional

Professional Development February 18, 2015 By: ASAE Young Professionals Committee

The latest installment of the "YP Insights" series focuses on career strategy. A young professional who manages the networks at the Specialty Equipment Market Association shares tips for YPs looking to develop their own network, and the importance of the mentor-mentee relationship.

In this third edition of the ASAE Young Professionals Committee member insights series, YPC committee member Bryan Harrison, senior manager of networks for the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), shares his experience leading young professionals in the nonprofit industry.

YPC: Your work is largely focused on advancing the careers of specific demographics, including women and young professionals, through SEMA Networks. What methods have you seen that work toward helping young professionals advance in their careers?

Harrison: There are a few guiding ideas that I have utilized with proven success in helping young professionals advance their careers. First, young professionals must be completely honest regarding their strengths and weakness. Focus your energy on projects that fall into your wheelhouse, and spend less time worrying about your weaknesses. Take a sports example: Michael Jordan, arguably the best basketball player of all time, was at best a mediocre baseball player. The time he spent pursuing a career in professional baseball was simply a distraction from his true calling. The most successful young association professionals that I have met know what they are good at and are constantly delivering value to their organization in those areas.   

Second, young professionals should be strategic in their career pathing as they take responsibility and own their future. It's easy to become over-focused on training and education at the expense of not focusing enough on a career path. To this end, I have worked with a number of young professionals who expect their supervisor or HR manager will actively assist in their career pathing, but that more often than not doesn't net the desired result. As young professionals advance in their careers, they should seek out a mentor in their industry who can help guide them along the way.

Last, it's vital to rise above the noise and attract notice to their organizational contributions in a gracious manner. As a guiding light, understand that people who meet expectations are easily forgettable while those who exceed them are remembered. Beyond an industry mentor, seek the mentorship of a senior manager at your association—someone who can explain the organization's culture and landscape beyond what's found in an employee handbook.  

Do you have any tips on developing a strong network?

Sure do. We have all heard the phrase "It's not what you know, it's who you know." The fact is, we live in a highly connected world, and it's absolutely essential for a young professional to create a robust professional network prior to needing it. I have come across a number of young professionals who begin to network on a need-basis and they'll contact me inquiring why it's not working. "I need a new job," "I need to secure this business deal," and "I need this promotion" are all bad reasons to start to networking. To be successful in developing professional relationships, young professionals must set aside their agenda, be genuine, and look for ways to help the other person.

When help is needed it's important to be considerate and avoid rash requests that may overwhelm a person in a young professional's network. The most successful young networkers I know focus on asking for advice or information on a topic that they need help with. This technique often allows the other person an opportunity to make a suggestion prior to the young professional having to make a specific request.

Many organizations try to offer mentor programs, but few succeed. As a young professional, what are the best methods to secure a mentor?

Having a mentor is likely to be the most personal workplace experience an association professional can have. The relationship between the mentor and mentee is one of trust, respect, and willingness to help. There are many factors to consider when choosing a potential mentor.

First, does the person have the time to help? Many mentors may have the best intention to help their mentee but their schedule doesn't permit the level of interaction that is needed. Second, determine if the mentor has a wealth of experience in the area a mentee seeks guidance in. Ensure there is a strong alignment between the subject matter and the mentor's expertise. Additionally, don't be detracted by a significant age difference in either direction. A younger mentor may offer the experience a young professional seeks.

Also, is there is a clear expectation of the requested relationship? Reach an understanding of what the mentor can offer and what the mentee is looking for. While mentors can be found within the organization, consider that he or she can be also be found in other associations, professional societies, a church, or elsewhere.

After young professionals locate that perfect mentor, it's important to start slow and with less complicated inquiries. Listen more than you speak—I have learned of a few young professionals who confused the mentor-mentee relationship as an opportunity to flex their intellectual muscle at the expense of not listening.

Also, consider the support of more than one mentor. Throughout my career I have been graced with many wonderful mentors, each providing their own unique perspective. Last, ditch the request for a mentor-mentee title. Instead, focus on building a meaningful relationship with someone who will happily assist you throughout your professional journey.

ASAE Young Professionals Committee

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