Maintaining Professional Memberships and Credentials

It is that time of year . . . the time when many of us are renewing annual professional memberships and credentials. Based on recent social media posts, this time also brings reflection on whether there is value for the money. Professionally, I spend $500 annually to maintain just one credential, not including the professional education credits I need to earn, and report on, every 3 years. It just so happens that the end of 2015 also brought the need to renew another credential. This one is on a 5 year cycle so it is just luck that it is getting lumped in with my thoughts around real and perceived value.

Sometimes credential / professional membership renewal becomes a matter of habit; it’s a yearly task, and yearly expense that simply is what it is. It is still important, however, to consider whether there is value for the money invested. This assessment of return on investment (ROI) may be complicated, depending on the credential/professional membership, but can be worth doing . . . at least every few years. Here are some questions to consider.

Is it required? Some professions (e.g., doctors, nurses, lawyers, and engineers) require membership in a professional association and maintenance of a credential in order to work. However, many other professions, including all of those related to career development, are non-regulated. Whether you consider yourself a coach, facilitator, or practitioner the maintenance of any professional qualification can be largely considered optional. That doesn’t, of course, mean that an employer or funder may not have a minimum hiring standard that includes a professional credential or membership; this, however, is different from a profession that is governed by an external regulatory body.

How do you define value? This is an interesting one as each person might consider the value of a professional credential/membership differently. For some, the value is nothing more than a job requirement; the inherent value is in the ability to stay employed. For others, the value is related to professional pride and being part of a community of professionals. Once you’ve defined value, it may be easier to assign a monetary value to use when calculating ROI.

Are you making full use of the membership? Many people don’t make full use of the deals/discounts/privileges that membership brings. Consider what benefits, or dollars, you are leaving on the table because you don’t access all the services and supports the professional association offers. In my case, as just one example, I’m a Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) and, with that, am a member of Human Resources Management Association (; most of the $500 annual fee is for my membership, with only about 1/3 going to maintain the credential. Although I recognize this is a big investment, I also know that HRMA offers an incredible array of activities for members, including an annual conference, webinars, professional development seminars, and numerous networking events. Some are member-only privileges, whereas others are offered to members at a discounted rate. Either way, I could likely save my membership fee each year if I attended enough events. With HRMA, I’m definitely not making full use of membership so, when calculating value, that becomes my problem, not theirs.

What is the cost to re-join or re-certify? In some cases, it is cheaper to pay to maintain your association membership and credential than to let it lapse, only to re-apply in the future. In other cases, since the credential was achieved, there have been changes to the application process and credential requirements. If that is the case, it is very important to ensure that you’d even have the ability to re-apply in the future. In both of these circumstances, it makes sense to just stay with the status quo; there is an inherent value in avoiding future complications.

Are there other, more suitable, options? As new associations are formed, new credentials established, and shifts within your own career goals and work responsibilities, it’s a good idea to reflect on whether your current memberships and credentials are still appropriate for you. Consider asking your network, looking at the letters after the names of your colleagues and LinkedIn community members, and consulting with your employer and/or mentor. As your career evolves, it’s likely that your memberships and credentials will, too.

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