One of the most common pieces of advice that I regularly received from settlement agencies, recruiters, and fellow marketing and communications professionals in the run-up to my move overseas, and during my early days in Vancouver was to join a professional association. I was given 3 options; IABC, CPRS, or BCAMA.
Like many other cities, Vancouver puts a very heavy emphasis on networking and who you know. This is particularly true of the job market here. It is a very different experience job hunting here compared to England, and just having strong experience in many instances won’t be enough. Your network is your net worth to a large extent here.
So within a few months of my arrival in Vancouver I joined, and started getting actively involved with, the British Columbia Chapter of the International Association of British Columbia (IABC/BC). Throughout two and a half years I became the Marketing and Communications Director, then Vice President, and finally President.
I stepped down as Past President because volunteering at the board level for so long was a huge part of my life and impacted other things like personal projects. I needed time back for me, but I still belong to this communications association to this day.
These are the main reasons why I would recommend getting involved with a professional association.
1. Networking Opportunities
This is the most obvious reason for joining a professional association. It gives you multiple opportunities to network and meet others. In particular, as a newcomer, as I began my job search, I realized very quickly that I had to network as much as possible.
Networking is attending events virtually and in person when possible, staying in touch with people that you meet, and supporting each other. It’s about building connections with fellow professionals which may become invaluable over time.
Building your network will help you when you are job hunting, trying to make friends, and learning about the job market where you live. It’s also about giving back and helping others in the future. Most of the professionals in my network who are in British Columbia, and globally, particularly communicators have come from IABC.
2. Belonging To A Community
No matter who you are, or what you do for work, belonging to a group of like-minded professionals, is very impactful – especially when you are a newcomer. Being a member of a professional association makes you part of a community of people who will be able to relate to your experiences at all levels and specialties. That is truly priceless.
The other big benefit for me was that it helped me to make friends in those early days when I didn’t know many people. Being in a new place on my own was a lonely experience at times and making friends through IABC and beyond really helped me to make Vancouver a home.
3. Gain Professional Experience
Landing in Canada with no Canadian work experience can be a barrier to finding work in your field. You will often hear companies asking for ‘Canadian experience’, and as a newcomer who had a successful career in England, this was a frustration. Getting involved, and volunteering with a professional association is a great way to overcome this barrier.
By volunteering you can gain great experience that you can put on your resume and build your network at the same time. The people you volunteer with may even become references for you when you are applying for jobs. It allows you to gain insights into how people work differently in your new home, and it’s a safe space to learn in. I have found that Canadian work and communication styles are very different from British, and it will take a little adjustment.
Over the time that I volunteered, I gained valuable leadership experience, learned how to run a large professional association, attended lots of conferences for free, traveled in Canada and the States, and won multiple awards with the team. It was a lot of time, energy, and hard work but it also gave me priceless experiences, numerous learning opportunities, free mentorship, and strengthened my resume.
4. Personal Life Lessons
Since moving to Canada, and particularly during my two and a half years volunteering for IABC/BC, I have learned so much about myself, my strengths and weaknesses, and numerous life lessons.
Through volunteering, and meeting professionals with diverse backgrounds and experience levels I gained a better understanding of who I am as a leader, what builds me up and knocks me down, and how I want my career to evolve in the future. It gave me deeper insights into what my values are, the kinds of people I want in my life, and what my triggers are (both positive and negative).
5. Lots of Professional Development
If you join a professional organisation, and actively stay engaged with it, you will find that there are so many opportunities available to you. Every association is different, but in my experience, IABC/BC gave me countless options for meeting people, learning, and having fun experiences including:
- Networking events
- Professional Development events and conferences
- Speaking at conferences and events
- Job Opportunities that are shared regularly
- Professional work experience
6. Making Memories
I enjoyed so many fun times as part of IABC/BC. I have made great friendships, many of whom I have no doubt, I will always be friends with. There is just something very special about being surrounded by like-minded people, and I have countless fond memories of socializing with the IABC local and global communities.
So, if you are either new to Canada, thinking of moving here, or want to build your professional network I wholeheartedly recommend joining a professional organisation. If you are a communications professional check out IABC!
Gemma Lawrence is the creator of This Brits Life. Born and raised in England, she has been living in British Columbia, Canada as a permanent resident since 2016. A solo traveler for the past 9 years, she hopes to inspire and help others to enjoy solo adventures too. As someone who has always struggled with her self-confidence and mental health, she also shares tips and inspirational stories relating to self-love, self-care, and mental health.