Skip to Main Content
March 10, 2009


To find candidates for a senior finance job that opened up last month, executive recruiter Ed Kaye scanned the roster of a relevant industry association and quickly homed in on a longtime member. He placed a cold call, and the recipient, a manager at a similar company, agreed to interview for the position and was eventually hired.

Mr. Kaye, a senior partner at recruiting firm GSP International in Woodbridge, N.J., isn't alone in searching associations' membership directories to identify talent. The strategy is the most common way recruiters find potential candidates who aren't actively looking for a new job, according to a recent survey of 450 members of the Society for Human Resource Management.

"It never hurts to be involved in associations," says Nancy Grossman, a recruiter for Capital H Group, a human-capital consulting firm based in Chicago. "You become more visible to recruiters and it shows you are committed to staying on the cutting edge of your field."

Recruiters and company hiring managers say they also often seek out potential hires at the meetings, conferences and other events that professional groups host. "Trade shows are great fishing expeditions for recruiters," says Barry Shulman, a principal at San Francisco-based recruiting firm Shulman Associates Executive Search Inc.

To increase your odds of landing on a recruiter's radar, participate in association events instead of just attending them, advises Todd Weinman, a regional director at recruiting firm Lander International LLC. "If you're somebody who comes to chapter meetings and always asks outstanding questions, a recruiter will definitely take notice," he says.

John Cronin, a managing director at Capital Finance Recruiters Inc. in Leonia, N.J., recommends nurturing relationships with the recruiters you meet and being patient. He recently placed a candidate he met 10 years ago at an association meeting into an information-technology-audit position at a large East Coast health-care company. "We always kept in touch and finally it worked out," he says.

Another way to boost your exposure to recruiters is to get involved in a professional group's management team or local chapter, says Wendy Alfus-Rothman, an executive career coach in New York. Run for a board seat, volunteer to be on a committee or offer to speak at a seminar, she suggests. You're likely to get to work closely with the organization's leaders, as well as gain opportunities to showcase your skills, she says.

Ray Manganelli, a vice president and senior managing director at Tunnell Consulting, learned about his current job through his work as a board member of the Association of Management Consulting Firms. The group accepts companies as members, not individuals, and Dr. Manganelli represented his employer at the time. During his tenure, he and Tunnell's representatives got to know one another, and in 2003 the company created a position for him. Dr. Manganelli now serves as the AMCF's board program chairman on behalf of Tunnell, which is based in King of Prussia, Pa.

Many associations post job ads on their Web sites, and some limit access to the ads to members. Corporate hiring managers and recruiters say they like to advertise on these sites, sometimes exclusively, to target trade-group members. "All the good candidates seem to belong to a particular association and the ones who aren't as skilled usually don't," says Bob Hatcher, president of Executive Network Inc., a search firm near Chicago that specializes in the food industry. He estimates that 40% of the candidates he places into jobs are identified through trade groups.

Job seekers say belonging to a professional association also allows them to easily connect with others in their field, which often results in job referrals and provides useful insights. While most groups charge an annual fee, it is typically far less than the cost of a career coach, who typically charges between $100 and $250 an hour, according to Frank Fox, president of the Professional Association of Risumi Writers & Career Coaches in St. Petersburg, Fla. Still, there may be other costs involved in attending annual meetings and conferences, including travel.

Networking with fellow members is unlike schmoozing with professionals in nonindustry-specific settings, says Debbie Lew, a senior manager at accounting firm Ernst & Young LLP in Los Angeles. "Members will spend a little extra time with you because there's that connection," she explains.

Ms. Lew says she learned about her current position in 2004 after conversations with several fellow members of the Information Systems Audit and Control Association. After she had tapped their knowledge about the accounting firm, several of them volunteered to give her a referral.

Within a week, Ms. Lew says, she received a call from a practice leader at Ernst & Young asking her to interview for a manager position she hadn't seen advertised. Several ISACA members were among those evaluating her candidacy, she says, and they acknowledged recognizing her from the group's events. Before leaving the interview, she had a job offer in hand, she adds.

Ms. Lew says she pays ISACA an annual membership fee of $120, plus $25 a year in dues for the organization's Los Angeles chapter. "It's definitely a great deal," she says, adding that she also receives discounts on the group's educational events and certification exams and other benefits.

The cost of joining associations varies greatly and often depends on the type of membership. For example, the Public Relations Society of America charges between $60 and $225 a year for national membership, plus as much as $80 annually to join one of its local chapters. The American Institute of Architects charges fees ranging from $338 to $819.


Filed Under: Job Search