by Dawn Penfold, CMP | February 01, 2006
When you decide to take the next step in your planning career, it needs to be the right one. As experienced meeting professionals well know, the higher the salary required and the higher the position aimed for, the more difficult it is to make that next move. This column outlines the skills and experiences that are most in demand right now. (A future column will deal with résumé writing and practical job-hunting tips.)
    Today, with strong competition for advanced, high-paying positions, the following will help you stand out from the crowd.
    " Technology. Naturally, planners need to have experience in traditional computer software and Internet programs. But to really stand out, they need to have a background in online applications, such as registration or the ability to manage an organization’s online database, which will save an employer money and/or staffing.
    " Market specialization. Organizations are looking for candidates with niche knowledge of their industries. Thus, medical/pharmaceutical companies prefer to hire meeting professionals with prior expertise in that industry; likewise with financial companies. In today’s high-pressured work environment, most companies do not want to give new employees the extra time and training needed to learn the ins and outs of a specific field. 
    " Proof of ROI. An in-depth understanding of return on investment is highly desirable. Planners need to show, through firm examples, precisely what added value they have brought to previous employers through meetings and events.
    " Globalization. A background in the management of international meetings, along with relationship-building and collaboration skills developed by global business experience, will put planners ahead of the competition.
    " Logistics and strategic thinking. Organizations are looking for professionals who not only can manage logistics, but who also can project trends and make use of evaluations to keep abreast of attendees’ interests and needs.
    " Negotiation skills. Planners who can bring the most value to the table at the lowest possible price are in high demand. Seasoned meeting professionals must be able to sell their experience in negotiations and cost-saving measures and be armed with hard examples to show potential bosses.
    " Adult learning expertise. Job candidates will have the edge if they know the what, how, when and where of their attendees’ learning habits and behaviors. The ability to enhance and advise on an event’s educational component is an important value-added skill.
    " Industry knowledge. In today’s competitive job- search environment, you need to know more than your competition. Candidates who know only what they need to know to get through their specific jobs will tend to lose out to a more well-rounded professional who has kept up with the trade and knows what others are doing. Where to glean this knowledge? Courses and training are abundant in the meetings industry, as well as through adult education classes at universities and colleges, or via the Internet. Join one or several of the meetings industry associations and attend their events. And keep up subscriptions to industry publications and newsletters. 
    " Certification. Attaining industry designations such as the Certified Meeting Professional, Certification in Meetings Management, Certified Incentive Travel Executive, Destination Management Certified Professional, Certified Special Events Professional or Certified Association Executive demonstrates your commitment to this profession and your respect for the skills it requires.