Whether you’re still researching MSW programs or just about to graduate, it’s never too early to begin networking. While it’s certainly beneficial for a future social worker to be inherently outgoing, there’s more to networking than just chit-chat. Networking in 2014 is different than it was fifty years ago or even ten years ago for that matter. There are more opportunities both on- and offline to get involved. Here are ten tips for how a future social worker can begin to grow their network and land that job interview.

  1. Networking is not about being selfish. The word “network” may initially sound like a synonym for selfishness, but don’t view it like that. Rather, consider it relationship building. If you’re afraid of being pushy or self-serving, then just don’t be pushy or self-serving. Social work in particular is built around community, relationships, and empathy, which is how you should approach networking as well. As written on Forbes, “true networking occurs when there’s an understanding that everyone in the room has equal value.”
  2. Don’t be someone you’re not. Ok, so perhaps you’re still feeling iffy with the idea of networking. The good news: you don’t have to be a schmoozer to be good at it. While the field of social work is naturally a social position, that doesn’t mean introverts need to fear being left behind. Essentially, it’s better to be shy and genuine, than outgoing and insincere. Consider your personality and if you would network better as a farmer or a hunter.
  3. Know your strengths.  You should have a good idea of how to promote your strengths, but also not let your weaknesses limit you. If you’re closer towards the end of your college career, you probably know what concentration of social work you’ll be going into. If you’re just starting out though, keep your options open. Fortunately, the field of social work in general is growing, with the highest rate of job prospects being in health care, mental health and substance abuse. While you should explore the field that works best for you, these are good statistics to keep in mind.
  4. Start online. Social media is key. Stay connected with your school’s alumni network, whether its Facebook or LinkedIn, or however else you prefer. Learn what other actual networks and organizations you can be a part of. Consider joining the National Association of Social Workers or the American Counseling Association as a way to show your commitment to the field.
  5. Attend conferences. This is probably the most “duh” item on here, but it is important! Nothing beats facetime with other professionals in the field. Prepare ahead of time knowing how to introduce and present yourself. Consider how to stand out from everyone else in the field. It’s a competitive environment, and while you might not feel comfortable being a shark, consider the aspects of your personality that do make you stand out.
  6. Volunteer. Another easy way to get that facetime in, to meet people, and to get some personal experience on that resume. A lot of your networking might begin online, but the best way to gain more substantial as opposed to fleeting contacts is to create a physical presence. Let people know you’re not just a robot that posts on Facebook all day. The best networkers will combine the best of old-school methods with new technology.
  7. Diversify. This may seem contradictory to point #3 but it’s not a bad idea to know people in other related social work fields. This can include professors and other students you’ve developed a relationship with; you never know what connections exist between multiple networks and how that could help you in the long run.
  8. Constant contact.Once you get one foot in the door, don’t risk letting it slam you in the face. Ivan Misner, a networking expert, suggests the multiple ways you can keep yourself in touch with your new contacts. “Sending a thank-you note, making a phone call, arranging a meeting, sending an article of interest to someone, displaying someone else’s goods in your store, putting someone else’s link up on your Facebook… all of these count as networking, and you should be doing these as often as you can.”
  9. Don’t fear rejection. Even if you feel like you’ve done everything in your power, it just doesn’t work out sometimes. Instead of getting down on it though, view the opportunity as a learning experience. Maybe you can do something different in your next encounter. Either way, it wasn’t meant to be, and if it didn’t work out, it’s probably for the best.
  10. Avoid parasites: Remember, just because you are taking the sincere approach, doesn’t mean that everyone is. Networking is a two way street: don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of.

Lastly, never ever ever EVER flat out ask for a job. Networking is a process and you shouldn’t expect immediate results. When discouraged, never get desperate. Tomorrow is a new day, and you never know what opportunities are waiting for you around the corner.