Until my mother’s dying days she never really understood how I made my living as an Association Executive. I ultimately explained to her in concepts that she could comprehend. I told her that, as she was a member of AARP I was the individual who managed a group very similar; except that we didn’t sell insurance and had considerably less influence on the Hill and had a few less dollars to work with. It was just not my mother who didn’t understand what Associations accomplish in society but I would be willing to bet that many of our friends and family are somewhat ignorant of the important actions and deeds that are achieved by not-for-profits on a daily basis.
It is also quite apparent that during job interviews, we the candidates must also emphasize the importance of associations but even more importantly the importance of the benefits and values that a professional Association Executive brings to the table. Many of us have spent our professional careers perfecting our abilities. Though not many of us contemplated becoming an Association Executive during college or even soon after graduating, we all have spent considerable effort and time at daily, weekly and annual events to fine tune our non-profit management abilities so that our associations can be the best that they can be.
An ever growing multitude of association professionals are achieving their CAE designation while others are participating in the US Chamber’s organizational management program. Like every other profession, it takes on-going fortitude to improve one’s skills while dedicating personal effort to make the association you are working for the epitomy of efficiency and effectiveness. It is important that all of us create an environment for Association Executives so that the work we achieve is not seen as just a passing fancy between other jobs but is a life-long progression – a professional career.
It is imperative for those in the Association Community to emphasize to our Boards and future employers that we are also management professionals and though we may not know the intricacies of the particular trade or profession that we are qualified to lead every association because of our expertise in all aspects of association mangement. We do not need to be a doctor or an engineer or even a candlestick maker to efficiently manage an association representing those professions or trades. We will certainly become knowledgeable in the profession or trade very quickly but the bottom-line is that we are professional association managers who are motivated to improve the entity in all possible ways during our tenure. By the way, studies are now showing that the tenure of an average Association Executive is about 6 to 7 years.
I remember an interview I was involved with a few years ago that I was able to impress even myself with the off-the-cuff answer. That is not meant to impress others of my abilities as much as to reflect upon the fact that after you have been involved in a few interviews they seem to be more of the same. It was your typical round-robin interview with about a half a dozen members of the board asking questions while I maintained eye contact and responded accordingly.
After about 45 minutes of this give and take I was startled to hear the comment from one of the interviewers with the question: You seem awfully capable as an association manager but how can we hire someone who knows absolutely nothing about (fill in the blank with any profession or trade)? The reason why I was so startled was because I thought I had done an adequate job talking about the Association Management Profession and that we are both Generalists and Specialists but out of left field I came up with an answer that I have used time and time again in both interviews and conversations.
My answer was: I have managed a dairy related trade association for numerous years, I managed it quite ably and by all accounts improved it’s status during my lengthy tenure but guess what – I am lactose intolerant. No one ever knew it and it never impacted my role as it’s Executive. You don’t need to be a dairy farmer, cheese maker or even a cow to promote the product. It got an immediate laugh from the committe but it also made the point that we are professionals and that we are also quick learners. We don’t need to be one of you to be interested in your issues and concerned with your problems.
In an interview setting we need to make a lasting positive impression. A little appropriate humor goes a long way but the most important impression is that you can respond without being flustered. If at all possible rehearse every response you can imagine but make sure you are always in a comfort mode so that if a question out of left field is thrown at you that you have enough self-confidence to throw a strike right back at the questioner. A home run is not always doable but a strong single goes a long way in scoring the job. Enough of the baseball jargon!