"Why don't you join a professional organization in your field?" I asked. "What's that?" questioned my client.
It was then that I realized a surprising truth. Numerous people don't know there are professional organizations, business clubs and specialty groups in the Tampa Bay area. What's worse, many don't know that they are one of the best sources for networking when you are looking for a job.
Liz Illgen maximized professional organization membership during her employment search. "These days more than ever before, it is critical to use your contacts to find work," she said. "People who know and trust you, people who know your capabilities and your work ethic are generally your best resources."
Where do you find these people? Illgen is an active member of Business and Professional Women St. Pete/Pinellas. BPW traces its roots to the suffragette movement and the local chapter celebrates 50 years this month. She joined when she was new to the area as a way to get involved with the community and network with other professional women. She says that the contacts made through BPW are invaluable. "Everyone in that club knows numerous people in the Tampa Bay area. In fact, it was through BPW that I found a part-time accounting and IT job to supplement my career as a Keller Williams Realtor."
She adds that her BPW involvement and working on committees helped her stand out. "My BPW contact knew me and my capabilities so well that she was able to give me a 'warm introduction' to the hiring manager. Turns out she did such a good job 'selling me' that what I thought was going to be an ordinary interview, turned into, 'When can you start?' "
It is impossible to list all of the Tampa Bay area's many professional, civic and business- oriented organizations in this short column. A quick Google search lists professional organizations for Realtors, attorneys, teachers, building contractors, engineers, accountants, environmental professionals, visual artists and many, many more.
Just about every city has a Chamber of Commerce, many of which provide not only networking opportunities but training for business people and entrepreneurs. You can also join groups that are created just to give leads. And, there are many national and international businesswomen's organization, including BPW.
Generally, anyone can attend meetings as a guest and then decide whether or not to join these groups. It's best to become an active member, regularly attend meetings and social events, and give back by working on committees so that people will know you and what you can do.
Illgen says, "I filled out more than 40 applications from online job boards to no avail," said Illgen. "Just a short time in BPW and I found mentors, friends and a job."
Marie R. Stempinski is president and founder of Strategic Communication in St. Petersburg. She specializes in public relations, marketing, business development and counsels people over 50 on "encore jobs" and lives. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and through her website, mariestratcomm.com.