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Meeting, convention and event planners get the party started

Do your friends always make you the party planner whenever it's time to get everyone together? Do you wish your job was more fast-paced and exciting? If so, you might want to consider a career as a meeting, convention or event planner.

From weddings to corporate events to nonprofit fundraisers, these professionals are responsible for making sure major get-togethers go off without a hitch. However, don't make the mistake of thinking that creating a good time for others means nothing but fun for event planners.

"The profession is so new that it is often misunderstood," said Cassie Brown, chief experience officer with the Tribble Creative Group, an event planning firm.

While Brown describes her work as "amazing," she also cautions that the career can be time-consuming and can come with a significant amount of stress.

One of the ten hottest jobs

When it comes to hot jobs, occupations in the health care and IT fields tend to dominate the discussion. And certainly, these industries are on the rise. However, it may surprise some to know that meeting, convention and event planners rank number ten on the list of fastest growing jobs according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. From 2010-2020, demand for planners is expected to increase 44 percent.

In addition, industry groups report that the demand for meetings and conferences is bouncing back from the recent recession. INCON, an international organization of conference organizers and event management companies, found association conferences are on the upswing, in part because of the creation of new, specialized professional groups. According to the INCON Annual Survey of the Global Association Conference Market, 62 percent of respondents said business was better in 2011 than in 2010.

In its FutureWatch 2011 report, Meeting Professionals International found 58 percent of planners surveyed felt the number of meetings would increase in the upcoming year. What's more, 18 percent believe event budgets will see a significant increase.

The basics of event planning

"An event planner is similar to an orchestra conductor," said Brown. "Our job is to make sure each individual piece of an event comes together for a flawless event."

To create that flawless event, planners must spend hours poring over paperwork and researching different options. Budgets must be developed, timelines finalized and scripts written. Even when the day of the event arrives, Brown says the planner's work isn't done. They are responsible for setting up and problem-solving the small crises that inevitably accompany every large event.

"Everything is on a deadline which makes it an extremely stressful occupation," said Brown. "It can also consume your life; it is sometimes hard to balance both work and personal life."

Although event planning can be a high-octane career choice, Brown notes that during off-months, professional planners may have more flexible schedules. According to Brown, the busy season varies depending on the industry segment. For example, wedding planners tend to be busiest from April through June and then again from September to November. Brown's firm focuses largely on corporate events and her busy season runs from March through June and the end of August to the beginning of November.

Finding the right education

There is no standard education requirement to work as a meeting, convention or event planner. Bls.gov reports most employers prefer applicants with a bachelor's degree in hospitality management or a related field. For those with an education unrelated to hospitality, several years of work experience in the industry may be necessary to land a job.

Brown adds that bachelor's degrees in public relations, advertising, communications, hotel-tourism, recreation, interior design or theatre can all be put to work in an event planner career. In addition, she advises future planners to be aware that good math skills will come in handy.

"There is a surprising amount of math," said Brown, "financial management, space planning, formulas, etc."

After three years in the industry, planners may be eligible for certification as a Certified Special Event Professional, Certified Meeting Professional or Certified Professional Catering Executive.

Landing your first job

Getting the right education is the first step toward landing a job as a meeting, convention or event planner. While in school, leverage contacts and take advantage of any internship opportunities offered.

"Experience is important, even unpaid," said Brown. "Volunteer to work with nonprofit events, intern with event industry professionals, do contract work for event planners."

Since every segment of the industry requires different skills and presents unique challenges, spend time exploring each to determine which interests you. In addition, industry groups can be a source of networking and educational opportunities.

Despite the pressure to pull off a perfect event, Brown says meeting, convention and event planning is a fantastic career choice for those with a passion for it. Every day is different, and the party never stops.