They are a vital resource for working professionals in virtually every career field and frequently misunderstood and underutilized by college students. Yet professional and trade associations can offer unparalleled access to industry news and resources, contacts with industry insiders, and job/internship leads.

"If you want to jump start your career, join a professional association in your niche of interest", states Paul Tanklefsky, Director of Career Services and Cooperative Education. "Then commit to get involved in the organization and good things will follow."

So here are the basics on associations - they are affiliations that act as a magnet or hub for all things specific to a particular industry - a meeting place for professionals and aspirants to network; a resource to exchange information and ideas on current trends, products and services; a source for professional development activities through workshops, seminars, and conferences; and a job posting site for industry-specific opportunities.

Here's just a sampling of some of the features currently available through professional and trade associations in the Boston area:

*American Marketing Association/Boston Chapter - -- encourages students interested in marketing to volunteer through the organization to meet people, build skills and knowledge, and get experience.

*Environmental Business Council of New England - sponsoring their annual Environmental, Energy, and Engineering Career Fair on Thursday, April 6th in Boston.

*Massachusetts Broadcasters Association - - posts full-time positions on their site.

Many professional and trade associations offer discounted (and reasonably priced) student memberships to encourage college students to get involved early in the profession of choice. Even if you opt not to be a member, you can still access lots of invaluable information.

A listing of 150+ Boston-area associations is available in the Job Search Strategies Handbook available on-line at