Association Careers: What It Takes to Hire and Work in This Industry

By • December 9, 2015

Recruiting and talent management experts leaders weigh in.




Young professionals value the opportunity to grow professionally and do something for society when moving into an association job. RealLilTweetables

Associations: Ask yourself what you can do to retain new hires, so that moving up doesn’t mean moving out. RealLilTweetables

The characteristics needed for an association job are the same as those for any job: drive, willingness to work hard, and enthusiasm. RealLilTweetables


Kelly Clark, Naylor Association Solutions
Kelly Clark, Naylor Association Solutions

With 1.3 million employees and growing, the association industry is an increasingly popular career path for young and seasoned professionals alike. The chance to do something meaningful for others and the opportunity to learn several new skills at once are two reasons more and more people are applying for association jobs.

Like most industries, the association community is constantly progressing in its standards and expectations. We caught up with several career thought leaders to get their take on what hiring and starting work in the association world looks like today:

What it takes to hire and keep a Millennial

What do you feel young professionals value most when working for an association?

Brian Choate, executive vice president of Timberlake Membership Solutions: Professional development and the ability to see positive results from their efforts.

Chip Sharkey, vice president of human resources, Naylor Association Solutions: Being able to do something for society and for other people, and gaining experience and knowledge you can’t typically get in other entry-level or mid-level positions.

What skills do you feel are most important for the right candidate to have when starting association work?

Richard Dobson, business development director at Naylor Association Solutions and former association employee: The skills most valuable in the association world are largely the same as in the for-profit world: a willingness to work hard and a hunger to learn.

Choate: Professional drive and a genuine enthusiasm to provide high levels of value and engagement to the members and constituents.

Sharkey: This is a bit difficult to answer. Part of it depends so much upon the type of job. Effective communications skills, a willingness to work hard, and a desire to help others are important attributes in the association professional community. Also important are flexibility and a desire to learn and grow. Not to be left out, business courses or a degree can be very helpful.

When hiring millennials and other younger professionals, how long do you expect them to stay at your organization?

Dobson: We’ve been taught to believe that millennials are somehow more inclined to job-hop than previous generations. But I’m not convinced that’s true. Perhaps the better question of an organization would be: What have you done to ensure that ambitious professionals don’t have to move out to move up?

For more about this topic, see our Corner Office profile of APCO executive director Derek Poarch.

To what extent is past behavior a reliable indicator of future success? 

Aaron Roesch, recruiter for Naylor Association Solutions: There are arguments that both support and oppose that past behavior is an indicator of future success in a job, but I think there are several other variables that dictate whether an employee will carry success from one company to the next, such as the nature of the company’s industry, the product/service the company provides, size of company, their manager, company culture, training, or the team on which they work.

How much of an impact do you think a candidate’s early positions have on the hiring manager’s final decision?

Choate: There are learned skills (experience) and then there are natural aptitudes. Both play a role, and the importance of each is directly dependent to the type of job being offered.

Dobson: It depends. Certain positions require demonstrable skills which follow a path of ever-increasing responsibility and achievement. Others, however, are less dependent on one’s past experience and more a matter of one’s education, personality and temperament.

What is your take on hiring millennials, using tech to hire for new positions, or working for an association in general? Leave us a comment below.

Kelly Donovan Clark is the manager for online marketing with Naylor Association Solutions.