How to Join a Professional Community
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In the lesson called "What is a Professional Community," you were asked to not only reflect on the many professional communities you currently belong to, but also explore what it was like to join them when you had little knowledge about their values, jargon, or primary conventions and means of communication.

Reflect for a moment on the feelings you had in those early stages. Think about the questions you had, the words that were unfamiliar, and what specific steps you took to gradually acclimate yourself to your new surroundings. Did you have a mentor there to guide you? Did you ask a lot of clarifying questions so that you could learn what each unfamiliar word and acronym meant? Did you take classes, read books, or conduct research in order to familiarize yourself with unfamiliar concepts?

Throughout the rest of this lesson, we will look at clarifying this process. If your hope is to one day find a better job or move up in your existing company, it is imperative that you learn to talk the talk and walk the walk of that industry. The professional community that you hope to join must see you as someone that shares their values and knows how to speak their unique language.

Let’s take a brief look at some steps that you can take to start familiarizing yourself with your desired professional community so that you might one day join it.

Establish Entry-Level Education Requirements

Many workplace communities have basic prerequisites (requirements) that must be met before a person can be considered for admission. Just as a hospital would never hire a surgeon with no medical degree, most companies would not consider hiring a potential employee without a certain set of standards being met. These baseline standards often involve the possession of certain certificates or even degrees.

The easiest way to determine a professional community’s baseline standard is by doing a simple internet search for your desired position and area of study. Look over the basic requirements and scroll through a few job postings to get a feel for what the minimum educational requirements are. If you find that you do not currently meet those requirements, take note of the degrees that these resources mention as desirable for that particular position and then go and do research to find a good educational match for your goal.

Whatever your intended career path, it is important that you start educating yourself on the educational requirements now so that when you request a potential employer or professional community for admission, you can make it past the initial screening process.

Identify Its Common Goals

Once you have identified (and ideally met) the baseline educational requirements to join your desired professional community, the next thing you should work on is familiarizing yourself with that potential employer’s goals and values. The simplest way to accomplish this is by visiting the company’s website (specifically, its job application section).

As you will explore later in this course, a company’s mission statement and value statements are an indication of what the company is trying to accomplish (its shared goals) and why it is so important.

To get a sample of this idea, visit the career website of a large corporation: Culture, Southwest Careers.

Ponder and Record

  • What is this company’s mission statement? What is the shared goal?
  • What value statements does this company have?
  • List three things this company values and expects its employees to value as well.
  • How do they expect their employees to achieve this shared goal (mission statement)?

Since a professional community is essentially a group of people with shared goals and shared means of communicating about and accomplishing those goals, it is absolutely vital that anyone desiring to join that professional community knows and understands what those goals are and how they are to be accomplished.

Learn Its Methods of Communication

Once you have identified the entry level of education that you will need to join your desired professional community as well as what its shared goal is, your next step should be learning the methods of communication within that community.

Many businesses favor email as a primary means of communication, while others employ customized computer systems or programs—or even paper—to communicate and do business. Some companies communicate via live presentations or video conferencing meetings, and even more employ all of these techniques (and perhaps even more).

The bottom line is that you cannot hope to convince an employer (future or present) to let you join their professional community if you don’t communicate effectively through their preferred methods. Whether you are currently employed or looking for employment, start researching now the primary methods of communication.

A few simple tips to get you started include the following:

  • Review job postings
    • Most job postings contain a section entitled “required” or even “preferred skills.” That section generally contains concrete details about the computer programs that the company tends to use as well as its preferred means of communication. Study those job postings carefully, and if you find yourself unfamiliar with anything mentioned, make learning more about it your number one priority.
  • Find a mentor
    • In any professional community, finding a seasoned expert who will help guide you is a fast-track toward success. A recent study published by Elsevier in the Journal of Vocational Behavior concluded that the mentoring relationship promotes career success. Mentors can impart industry-specific knowledge and help facilitate professional networking. These skills and connections can then lead to better paying jobs, promotions, or even additional job offers. New research from North Carolina University also found that people with mentors were more likely to find work early in their desired careers, putting them on a path toward financial success much sooner than their peers.
  • Study expert examples
    • Once you have interpreted the primary means of communication within that professional community, take the time to study expert examples. Pay attention to the different communications that you receive. Focus on its structure and consistencies. Consider its tone and word choice. How do these things change from one communication type to another? Pay close attention to communications received from your mentor. Try and copy the conventions, tone, and word choice in your own communications. Ask to attend meetings or be CC’d on communication methods that you still feel inexperienced at. Ask your mentor for tips and feedback as you practice and grow into the communication style of that professional community.

Learn to Speak the Language of Industry

The final step that you can take to make strides in identifying and eventually joining an unfamiliar professional community is to learn the language of that community. Just like the unfamiliar jargon that you likely came in contact with as young or new members of the Church or of this BYU-Pathway Worldwide program, you can expect to experience similar unfamiliarity with any new professional community. There will be words, phrases, and acronyms spoken that you have never heard before, and it may feel quite overwhelming in the beginning.

The best medicine for this problem may be time (time to learn and adjust yourself). However, there are a couple steps you can take right now to start making some progress in this area:

  • Get an education
    • While each company has its own unique language and jargon, there are certain words and concepts that are generally used industry-wide. Getting degrees, certificates, and credentials in relevant areas of study is always a great first step.
  • Ask questions!
    • You will never learn the language if you don't ask questions. Much like when you visit a foreign country and the locals tend to assume you speak their language, members of professional communities tend to assume the same about those around them. Don't be afraid to speak up and ask trusted coworkers (and especially your mentor) to clarify words, phrases, acronyms, procedures, or other concepts for you. You simply cannot learn if no one knows you need to be taught.

While following these four steps won't take away your struggles, it will accelerate the process and cause you to stand out to your employer (or potential employer).

Ponder and Record

Before you move on from this lesson, consider applying what you have learned about professional communities to a job posting you might be interested in responding to. Analyze the job posting and then answer the following four questions:

  • What level of education is required to fulfill this position?
  • What does the company do? What are the company’s (professional community’s) shared goals? What is its mission statement? What are its value statements?
  • What methods are used for communication within this professional community? Which ones do you feel familiar with and which ones do you feel you would need to work on? Please be specific.
  • What words, phrases, or acronyms are unique to this particular professional community? How familiar are you with them? What steps can you take to start learning the “language”?

Need More Help?

  1. Study other Writing Lessons in the Resource Center.
  2. Visit the Online Tutoring Resources in the Resource Center.
  3. Contact your Instructor.
  4. If you still need help, Schedule a Tutor.