"Oh, the glamour. Ooooooo!" whoops Vickie Satern. "How do you like to stay in nice hotels? Have chateaubriand in lovely restaurants?"
Satern may be exaggerating about the expense-account life, but there's no denying she's upbeat about making a career of oneself in the Washington world of association management. "Once you've been in an association, it's in your blood."
A former association staffer herself, she's now president of an employment agency, Association Personnel, whose clientele she limits to people looking for a job with one of the Washington areas's 2,500 associations and professional groups.
Many job-hunters, Satern believes, are not aware that -- with perhaps 87,000 employes and a $2 billion-a-year payroll -- the association business is the city's third-largest employer after the federal government and tourism.
As far as she knows, hers is the only firm specializing in association employment. "I feel like a pioneer," says the 31-year-old former junior high school teacher from Okoboji, Iowa.
However, there are at least four other good sources for association job opportunities.
The American Society of Association Executives provides a nationwide job-referral service. For a $40 fee (for non-members), you can register with ASAE's executive employment services for the 500 to 600 jobs -- mostly mid- to top-level -- listed annually. Resume help also is available.
Association Trends magazine provides a "jobseeker service." For $40, the magazine runs your want ad for three weeks and provides interested employes a copy of your resume.
At no charge, the Association Executive Referral Service of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will keep your resume on file for four months, sending it to associations with job openings for which they believe you might be qualified. About 20 to 30 openings a month are listed with the service, mostly for mid- to top-level positions.
Taking Charge!, a careercounseling firm, this year began offering Saturday workshops on association careers. The next is planned for December.
Size alone makes association management a promising career field. But, Satern says, it also offers good mobility and "versatility."
Most associations perform similar functions: They put on meetings and conventions, publish newsletters or professional journals, lobby for or against legislation affecting their members, seek new members, keep their members informed and promote the goals and standards of the organization.
They can range from small, scholarly groups such as the American Anthropological Association, with about 25 employes, to grants like the American Chemical Society with hundreds.
If -- as she recommends -- you begin your career in a small association, you'll probably have a hand in all of these functions. "All of a sudden you've got a variety of tasks. It's on-the-job training," she says, that should prove invaluable as you climb the organization chart.
Chances are you'll move from one association to another on your climb, she says. Or, because you're often in "high-visibility" job, you might be hired by a member corporation.
Satern's clients include "lots of government escapees, a lot of expriests, en-nuns ane ex-teachers." At one recent workshop -- where, for $25, she offers tips on how to write an association resume and then critiques it -- a federal manager, a real estate agent and a hospital administrator showed up.
The jobs they are looking for range from secretary to mid-level positions at $15,000-$30,000 a year, to the top post of executive director, where the salary can reach $45,000 to $150,000.
So far, Satern's new firm hasn't place anyone in one of those plum jobs. Most of her placements now are at mid-level. She estimates she finds jobs for 1 out of 10 who contact her agency, an average she says is "good" for an employment firm.
Before setting up her own company in 1978, Satern worked for 18 months for the American Society of Association Executives in their professional development program. In between, she did something she counsels her clients never to do. She quit before she had another job lined up.
After four and a half months out of work, "I became almost incapable of doing anything. It was a bad time in my life."
But that ended when she took a second mortgage on her condominium apartment to form Association Personnel. "For $8,000, you can start a business on a shoestring." That was in October of 1978. Now, she has six full-time employes.
Some characteristics of the profession, she believes, may not appeal to everyone. Or they could be just what you're looking for.
"The whole business is detail-oriented," particularly in the matter of running the association's annual convention, which can draw several thousand members. "If you drop the ball, you've had it."
A supposedly minor item such as notepads and pencils can become a costly mistake, she says, if you tell the hotel to provide them for everyone at every meeting. "You could end up blowing a large percentage of your budget."
"You've got to do your homework and follow through," agress Penny Garner of Taking Charge! "At all levels." If you've misspelled a member's name on a convention badge, chances are "you're not going to get far."
If you want to be a policymaker, Satern suggests, you might consider some other field. In association management, "You're the mule. Members set the policy.As the stuff, your job is to implement."
Associations are "very politically oriented," she says. Each year a new president is elected, and he or she may want to make changes in the group's goals. If you're working for a board of directors, usually elected volunteers, "it's like managing a school of fish. They go off in all directions.
"You're not paying them. They're paying you. It's hard to manage somebody you're not paying."
Adds Garner: "Lots of people think that because they're non-profit, associations are low-key -- a nice, soft spot to work." They're unaware of "the infighting that goes on. You need interpersonal skills -- the ability to smooth ruffled feathers."
Consider the nature of an association, Satern says, before you accept a job. Generally, they reflect their membership. For example, the National Society of Professional Engineers will pay more than an association of small business owners.
"Small businessmen who don't make big salaries," she says, "don't understand why secretaries here need $11,000.
"You've got to be willing to put in a lot of overtime," she says. "During a convention, everybody works 16 hours a day." When a bill that's crucial to your association reaches the House or Senate, "it's very hectic. It's crisis management. You have to be used to the pressure."
Still, says Sue Greer, of the office of corporate relations of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, working with an association's volunteer officers, "You have a real opportunity to see grass-roots, participatory democracy at work." Association members "have a tremendous influence on all aspects of American life."
Terri Ozley of Arlington worked for three associations over a period of six years before she quit recently to start a management consultant firm with her husband. She found it "exciting to be involved with people all over the country."
But there are pitfalls. "You can have the best chief executive officer. One day he's fantastic. Next day he's canned." The problem could be a newly elected president "who doesn't like him."
Because associations are flexible, says Ozley, you can sometimes write your own job ticket. "Pick an association that interests you. Investigate it. Find its weaknesses." That's what she did to get her last job -- she convinced them they needed a convention manager.
Even not, at the site of a convention, she's alert to poor arrangements -- "if the Muzak's still on, there are no ashtrays and the pencils are just thrown on the table and not sharpened."
Ozley thinks associates offer unique opportunities for women who are not specialized "to try their abilities, as opposed to being stuck as a secretary in a corporation."
Nancy Burns, executive director of the Sales and Marketing Council of the American Trucking Associations, also considers opportunities for women "excellent," especially in such areas as editing, publishing, organizing, direct mail, running meetings.
She believes that association work in the past 10 years has become increasingly more professional. Where once it may have been a matter of a non-profit organization putting out a monthly newsletter, the associations are now doing much more lobbying and working as "a liaison between industry and government." One benefit to employes, she sees, is in better salaries, expecially for women, whose pay -- as reported in Association Management magazine -- has lagged behind their male co-workers.
Nevertheless, in today's troubled economy, competition for association jobs is "keen," says Satern. Some associations, she finds, have begun laying off personnel.
Charles Peterman, director of executive employment services for the American Society of Association Exeuctives, is seeing layoffs, too. He calls the job market "spotty," particularly in associations in the automotive and building industries.
But, he says, more associations are moving to Washington, and others -- such as a synthetic fuels association -- "are just starting up and creating new jobs."
Association Trends publisher Frank Martineau is optimistic.
"There are all kinds of job openings," he says. While some associations are cutting their budgets, others are expanding. In troubled times, "when problems are being tackled, it's the associations that are tackling them."