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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