Professional Networking Key to Social Work

24 Feb

By Leslie Scott
NASW Ohio Chapter Intern

Building relationships is a core value of our profession and a skill every social worker uses on a daily basis. In fact, 70% of job seekers obtain employment through contacts versus a mere 30% who find employment by searching online. For many, however, building professional relationships can sound like a daunting task. But, in reality, developing a professional relationship requires the same skills building a relationship with a client does. So really, you already have the skill set to establish strong professional connections, and in return, those professional relationships will be an asset to your network and career.

Professional networks are most beneficial when they are comprised of social workers and other professionals who are involved in the field of your interest and willing to provide you with professional advice. Networks take time to build, but your end goal should be to connect with a handful of individuals who can provide honest feedback on your skill set and guidance on your career aspirations. To begin building a network, start meeting professionals in your field, inside and outside your agency.

Keys to Building a Great Professional Connection

  • Get to know everyone in your agency or field placement and learn what they do on a daily basis. If you have time, offer to help them with a project. (This demonstrates your abilities and that you’re a team player!)
  • To build a solid network, you may need to approach or cold call strangers for an informational interview. The goal of an informational interview is to learn what you need to know to be the perfect candidate for that field. It’s easiest to send emails and ask for a phone interview, which would last for no more than 30 minutes.
  • Start a Resource Binder to collect information about various agencies and organizations as you meet professionals.
  • Another great way to meet current professionals is through online communities. Being active within an online community, such as Mojalink or LinkedIn, can help you learn how to express your professional opinions and make connections with people who have similar interests. To get started, check out NASW Ohio Chapter’s LinkedIn page.
  • Coalitions can serve as another opportunity to gain professional contacts. Coalitions are usually multi-disciplinary, bringing together representatives from various interested professions and organizations, to bring about change on a specific topic. In Columbus, there are many coalitions you can get involved with, including the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless, Advocates for Ohio’s Future, and Central Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition. Email NASW Ohio Chapter at info@naswoh.org if you’d like more information!
  • When volunteering, remember to make the best of it! Use volunteering opportunities to market your skills. If you want a job doing community outreach, volunteer for a leadership role on a coalition or offer to represent an organization at local conferences. Pick opportunities that get you speaking to people who currently hold your dream job or the job you are trying to obtain. You want to spend your time showcasing your skills to staff members, since many organizations promote within or rely on professional networks to suggest candidates.
  • Remember when you ask for advice or guidance from another professional it does not mean asking for a job. If they happen to know of a job you’re qualified for, they will tell you or recommend you.
  • Be professional—dress for informational interviews like it is a job interview and respond to all emails, voicemails, and other forms of communication promptly.
  • Set goals for yourself, like meeting with 5 different people by the end of the month.
  • Attend as many NASW Ohio events you can! (It’s seriously a great way to network.)

Want to know more about professional networks? Follow this link or check out How To Become A Nonprofit Rockstar: 50 Ways To Accelerate Your Career.

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The Need for Social Work Educational Debt Relief

14 Jan

By Emily Puffer
NASW Ohio Chapter Intern

Social workers across the United States provide a number of services to individuals, families, and communities affected by life’s hardships. From refugee resettlement to family reunification, social workers are the essential adhesive to our society. While most men and women do not pursue a career in social work for financial gain, they may not have expected to face financial hardship because of their career choice. Living on a social worker’s starting salary (as low as $25,000) is hard enough, but when families and, especially, students loans are thrown into the mix it is nearly impossible to get by without assistance.

Social work students who graduate with a BSW accrue an average of $32,779 of debt in student loans. For MSW graduates the average elevates to about $44,584 of student loan debt. To put this in perspective, a social worker with $33,000 in subsidized student loans would pay about $400 every month for ten years before that debt could be repaid in full. A social worker with $45,000 in subsidized student loans would pay about $550 every month for ten years. With the inflated cost of education and stating salaries as low as $25,000, what incentive is there for an Ohioan to pursue a career in social work?

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the state of Ohio has one of the highest concentrations of social workers and, yet, is also in the lowest 25th percentile when it comes to social work salaries. The average of all social work salaries in the state, representing the salaries of social workers in a wide range of fields, and with varying levels of practice experience, is $45,830. In other states, such as Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania social workers make between $60,000 and $70,000 per year on average. This shocking statistic begs the question, “Why would anyone want to be a social worker in Ohio?”

With the anticipation of a 25% increase in social work related jobs over the next couple of years, Ohio should think about creating incentives for men and women to pursue a social work education. As it stands, Pennsylvania, New York, and California have developed educational debt relief programs to ease the financial burden on social workers and to encourage the growth of this much needed and valuable profession. You’re next Ohio!

NASW is dedicated to advocating for the development of an educational debt relief program for social workers in Ohio. Sign the petition here and join the fight with the new NASW Ohio Chapter Educational Debt Relief Committee. Together we will advocate for ourselves so that we can better serve Ohioans. 

Vulnerability: A Gateway Emotion

9 Jan

By Leslie Scott and Lucia Kidwell
NASW Ohio Chapter Interns

Vulnerability is a topic social workers confront on a daily basis with clients, friends, even co-workers. In the United States, vulnerability is seen as weakness. Even the dictionary defines vulnerability negatively — “susceptible to attack” or “susceptible to injury”. For social workers, however, being susceptible to vulnerability and being able to operate outside of our comfort zones are essential life skills. We are trained to be comfortable with silence to help our clients accept vulnerability. After all, when we ask clients to divulge their personal information, we are asking them to be vulnerable.

University of Houston College of Social Work Researcher, Brene Brown says social workers should see vulnerability in a positive light. In her research, Brown examined connections between people and discovered what most often dissolves connections is shame and fear, the underlying feelings behind vulnerability. When we feel vulnerable, we feel isolated or embarrassed, even fearful for our reputation, safety, and job security. By changing how we respond to our own vulnerabilities, however, we start to see a shift from the negative to the positive.

In Brown’s research, she identified three characteristics from her participants, all of whom had higher numbers of positive connections. The three characteristics were: (1) they believed they were worthy of love, (2) they were courageous, such as courage to be imperfect, and (3) they embraced vulnerability. To embrace vulnerability begins with acknowledging vulnerability as a necessity of life. Vulnerability forces us to learn new life skills, try new activities, and much more. It can create happiness, joy, love, excitement — all positive emotions we hope to see in our clients’ lives. Furthermore, when we embrace our own vulnerabilities, we can better establish positive feelings and connections in our lives. When we hide or control our emotions on a regular basis, we begin to lose our ability to recognize others’ emotions. We lose focus of the client if we are always working to hide our true selves. Avoiding vulnerability and feelings of embarrassment, isolation, and fear is exhausting, so why not choose to embrace our vulnerabilities? According to Brown, embracing vulnerability begins with our behavior: letting yourself be seen, loving with your whole heart even though there is no guarantee, practicing gratitude and joy, and believing you are enough. Brene Brown’s guidelines acknowledge vulnerability as a gateway to living life and experiencing all the emotions that come with it.

  • I will let co-workers and clients see me for who I am, without remorse.
  • I will attend functions, even if I feel out of place.
  • I will accept that my co-workers, even my clients will see me when I am sad, happy, or mad.
  • I may have the worst client, but I am thankful I have a job and an employer who trusts me with difficult cases.
  • I am joyful that my life is stressful, because it means it is filled with people.
  • I am enough.

For more information, see Brene Brown’s video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4Qm9cGRub0.

Professional Self-Image

15 Nov

By Luci Kidwell and Leslie Scott
NASW Ohio Chapter Interns

In a profession where new problems emerge every day, it can be easy to develop a negative image of ourselves and our career. While public opinion might affect our work with our clients, the perception that can help or hinder our work the most is our own. How do we create a positive self-image that carries us through daily problems?

1. Know your strengths and weaknesses.

Society teaches us that weaknesses are bad, and we need to fix them. However, in some cases, that mindset can be harmful instead of helpful because it pushes us to focus on what we can’t do and neglect developing areas where we excel. Part of being a competent and confident social worker is knowing what you can and can’t do. Then, practice the 80/20 rule. This means spend 80% of your time developing your strengths and 20% of the time improving in areas of weakness. This will help you become one of the best in the area of practice you love while still keeping you well-rounded in your field.

2. Set realistic goals for yourself.

Sometimes being a social worker feels like being a superhero without all of the super powers. Your compassion for others can quickly become harmful rather than helpful if you live without limits. First, be honest about what you are able to do in the time given. Then, be specific about what you want to accomplish and make your goals measurable.

3. Celebrate your achievements.

The best way to develop a positive self-image is to dwell on the positive. When you are dealing with self-doubt, start by remembering how far you have come as a professional. Remind yourself of the time you helped a client succeed or the time you excelled in class. This will give you the confidence to face new challenges.

4. Take it one day at a time.

Self-esteem is part of survival. Without it, we burn out. Take time each day to refresh. Remember, today is a clean slate and a chance to do your best. Yesterday is gone and you can’t reach tomorrow without making it through today.

5. Know your own worth.

Knowing your own value is crucial to your self-image. In order to be appreciated by others, we must first appreciate ourselves. Then, we need to vocalize our value by advocating for ourselves. Unlike any other profession, social workers are trained to work anywhere and often without needed resources. Be proud of the work you do and resist stereotypes and slander. Tracy L. Chenoworth, an expert on professionalism in the workplace, had this to say on knowing your value: “Counter devaluation and demonstrate legitimacy. If you are not managing your professional self-image, someone else is.”

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Please post comments, questions, or suggestions below. Check back for December’s post about Professional Confidence.
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Follow-Up from October’s Post, The Image of Social Work

What is social work?
Social Work is the professional activity of helping individuals, groups, or communities enhance or restore their capacity for social functioning and creating societal conditions favorable to this goal. Social workers enhance quality of life, change social stigmas, advocate for the respect of all persons, research psychosocial functioning, advocate for culturally relevant and affective public policy, and so much more (National Association of Social Workers).

Appellate Court’s Decision Reflects NASW’s Input

22 Oct

This summer, Ohio’s Fourth Appellate District Court of Ohio decided in favor of Ohio resident Anastasia Clemons, reversing the ruling of a trial court that convicted her with the crime of “Corrupting Another with Drugs” because her newborn tested positive for criminalized drugs.  Ms. Clemen’s child was found to be healthy after birth and showed no adverse signs from exposure to the illegal substances. NASW’s Social Work Ethics and Law Institute submitted an amicus brief in the name of NASW Ohio Chapter for this case. The brief stated NASW’s position that criminal prosecution of women who use drugs during their pregnancy interrupts family stability and runs counter to the best interests of their children and society. The emphasis should be on the treatment and prevention of addiction, not on punishment of the addict. The appellate court’s ruling represents an important victory for Ms. Clemons — and all the women of Ohio who can now seek prenatal care and treatment for addiction without fear of being prosecuted.

The Image of Social Work

22 Oct

By Leslie Scott and Lucia Sizemore
NASW Ohio Chapter Interns

Research since the 1970s has shown two constants about the perception of the social work profession: there is little public consensus regarding the role of social work and most survey participants report a negative view of the profession. A review of American movies from 1938 to 1998 that feature a “social work” character revealed that over half of the movies focused on child welfare and most of the social workers were shown to be white, middle-class, female and incompetent. This is troubling news for our profession. When we are seen as doing more harm than good, we are unable to do our jobs.

How do we show our clients that we are in fact a diverse group of people who are well-trained and well-qualified to meet their needs?

#1 Call Yourself a Social Worker

It’s difficult to recognize social workers when we have a variety of job titles: case manager, community organizer, and program director being just a few. By referring to yourself primarily as a social worker, you will begin to develop a social work community network and, over time, create a positive view of social work.

#2 Be Competent

As social workers, we are often the first line of defense for our clients. That means we need to stay up to date on our professional knowledge and skills. The ability to advocate is just half passion, the other half is knowledge.

#3 Promote the Profession

Social workers have not traditionally promoted or discussed their work with media professionals, and it shows in the public’s negative view of the profession. Social workers need to start viewing public relations as part of their jobs. We should always be on our best behavior and promote our profession’s contributions to everyone we know. People won’t know what we do unless we tell them.

#4 Advocate for the Profession

As social workers, we are called to be advocates. In the scramble to meet the needs of clients, we often overlook the needs of our profession. But, changing the profession’s image begins with us. We are responsible for how our clients and our communities see us. We can’t serve our clients if they don’t trust us. Collaborating with NASW and other allies to support social work professionals is a great way to strengthen our profession.

Changing the image of social work begins with you. Don’t hide who you are and don’t hide what you do.
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Please post comments, questions, or suggestions below. Be sure to check back for next month’s post about Professional Self-Image.

NASW Ohio Chapter’s website offers opportunities to get involved in promoting and advocating for the social work profession in Ohio.

HB 232- Moving Closer to Title Protection in Ohio

21 Oct

House Bill 232—legislation that provides Ohio social workers with title protection and other protections for their clients and practice —received its third hearing before the House Health and Aging Committee on Wednesday, October 16th. For nearly thirty years, the civil service exemption has allowed anyone working in Ohio government to be called a social worker without requirement of professional training or a license. NASW Ohio Chapter’s Membership Associate, Dorothy Martindale, presented proponent testimony Wednesday calling for the long-overdue removal of this exemption to protect social work jobs and vulnerable client populations. Dr. Victoria Kress of the Ohio Counseling Association (OCA) also provided testimony in support of the legislation. Legislators’ questions primarily surrounded the removal of a 60-day limit for retiring Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage and Family Therapists (CSWMFT) Board members to continue serving until a replacement is named. While this removal is primarily directed at ensuring each committee retains a quorum during a board member’s transition, Rep. Hood expressed concern that this provision could potentially lead to a lifetime appointment. Rep. Sears, the bill sponsor, noted she would support a full discussion of the issue in the Senate. The bill was voted out of committee unanimously and is expected to come up for a floor vote at the next scheduled full House session on October 30th. Contact the Health and Aging committee members to thank them for their support, then contact your district representative and tell him/her to support HB 232 to remove the civil service exemption and give social workers the full title protection they need.