26 August 2014

Professional Memberships

I know I’ve been away from the blog again, as I’ve been busy. This hasn’t just been work (although that’s part of it), but in a wider professional sense. In recent months I’ve stepped up to full membership of the ISTC, and become a Fellow of ITOL.

Today’s blog post can be read from a few distinct perspectives. Perhaps you’re a recent graduate wondering what all those extra post-nominals you see on business cards are for, or maybe you’re a peer thinking about joining or staying in a professional organisation. Then again you could be involved in running a professional body in some way, and you want to know what your members think. You’ll have to read between the lines a little bit – and this is very much my perspective – but I’m sure you’ll find something here of use.

It was tempting to create a series of tables and infographic you to death at this point in an attempt to compare various types of qualifications and professional bodies... but I’m afraid that if you want an answer to “what is chartered status?” or “what is a regulated profession?” you’ll have to head elsewhere. It suffices to say that the professional bodies I’m thinking of are those like the ISTC and ITOL where there is no qualification-based route to entry, and no statutory requirement to be a member (which means the same article written by a surveyor or surgeon about their professional memberships will reach somewhat different conclusions). Here are some of the things that you get – or don’t get – as a member of a professional body.

When you put in for membership of a professional body, you are scrutinised by a committee of Fellows (note the capital F) who are at the top of their profession. At the very least they’ll look at your CV and qualifications, and possibly a few samples of your work... they may also seek references. When they decide that you’re eligible for Membership, this means that you’re competent in the field, and when they opt to make you a Fellow, they’re acknowledging – for the record – that you’re at their level. For example, the team who decided to make me a Fellow of ITOL decided that I’m as capable a trainer and training consultant as they are – although we may train and consult in quite different specialist fields.
With the status comes a bit of a confidence boost. I wouldn’t say that I've become a better trainer or communicator solely because of my memberships, but the validation has made me more confident. As a training planner, I’d occasionally run into situations where my plans were questioned and I was guilty of backing down and delivering a weaker solution as a result... but I now feel more resistant to those pressures.
Further Growth
Once you’re in a professional body, there’s the opportunity for further growth and development as part of that group. Those of you who keep up with my output will know that I regularly write for Communicator, and this quarter I’ve used my involvement with the journal to get to interview one of my ‘heroes’ (this blog is spoiler free, so you’ll have to read Communicator to find out who this is). I’ve spoken at TCUK and roped one of my favourite journalists into being the keynote at last year’s conference – something I was sadly unable to capitalise on when it came to wrangling a writing gig!
Jobs Contacts
While we’re on the subject of failing to capitalise on things, professional membership isn’t a route to getting a job (unless you happen to be in a regulated profession or require chartered status). Professional membership is a route to building your contacts and meeting the people who can guide you as your career develops, but unless you’re very lucky they’re not going to offer you a job. Similarly, unless you’re dealing with a company already very aware of the organisation, you’re unlikely to find membership as part of a job description... but you can still talk about it at interview as an example of how you’ve validated your professional practice, developed confidence and kept up to date.

So, I’ve become more “active as a professional”, which should hopefully lead to bigger and better things and I’ve learnt a little bit about professional bodies as a result. It’s good – in a warm and fuzzy way – to know that my work as a trainer and communicator (and indeed, trainer of communicators) is recognised and respected.