Positioning Yourself for Future Success
Through Networking and Building Relationships
Yesika Montoya, LMSW and Karol Makosky, LMSW, Members of New Professionals Task Force
For better or worse, connections make the world go round. At least 50% of all available jobs go unadvertised, but how can you apply for and get a job that isn’t listed anywhere? Well, approximately 75-80% of all jobs are found through networking. The good news is that networking is one thing, among many, that social workers do well! Networking is about building relationships and making connections. Recognizing the importance of networking and relationship building, the NASW-NYC New Professionals Task Force has been regularly holding meet-ups where building connections and support networks take place. Collectively, we have learned the benefit of taking advantage of opportunities to meet with leaders that are well positioned to help us along our career paths in our workplaces. In addition, we have attended other external events, committee meetings and school/alumni initiatives, which has enabled us to build critical relationships. Based on these experiences, the following are some quick pearls of wisdom or lessons learned that we think could benefit all students and new professionals.
Before you start, think about what you are looking for: a job in a specific practice area or with a certain population? Now, assess people you already know. They may be key players or know key players in your desired field. A short list could include, but is not limited to: professors, alumni, classmates, friends, former employers or co-workers, your doctor, neighbors. Assemble your contacts database: a Rolodex, spreadsheet, or anything that will work well for you. Be sure to include space not only for contact information, but also for other important information such as your relationship, and his or her interests and associations. All of this information will be useful to you while you are job searching and in the future! Now identify others that you need to know. Who are the key players in this field? Where or how can you meet them? Key places to network with these people include: conferences, informational events, short courses, cocktail parties, trainings, volunteer opportunities, professional association events, etc.
So you have found the event of the century- how do you prepare? If you are not currently employed invest in a business card with your contact information. Practice your infomercial! Try to introduce yourself in less than 30 seconds or in about 15 words. Read the newspaper and/or professional journals and newsletters. It is important to be prepared to talk about current events or important developments in your field, which are topics that are likely to come up in friendly conversation. Feeling uncomfortable with small talk? Practice at your grocery store, on the subway, or at the park by taking those opportunities to start a conversation. It also helps to be ready with some good questions: What brought you to this event? How about those Giants? If you are nervous- take a buddy. Last but not least, get excited! Go with a positive attitude; you’ll have a better time and get more out of it.
Arrive on time and plan to stay late; that is when most of the networking happens. Don’t forget the nice new business cards you ordered and wear something with pockets to hold your business cards and those you will collect. Be open and friendly by smiling, making eye contact, and keeping your body language open. Don’t hide in the corner! Strike up a conversation with someone. People are there to be social; they want to talk to you too. If it is a sit down dinner, be sure to sit with people you don’t know, you’ll know them well by the end of the night! Groups that have a gap are open for joiners, as are duos that are not directly facing each other and about 2 feet apart. Use those small talk skills you’ve been practicing and ask open-ended questions. Be interested and focus on the person with whom you are speaking. Avoid negative remarks and make sure that humor is used appropriately and not offensively. Remember that a conversation takes two; be sure to offer up information about yourself. Small talk is how we build relationships and a good rapport, which is essential to doing business. As Michael Korda said, “there is nothing small about small talk.”
Success! You have talked to many different people, made a few new contacts and had a blast. Say your goodbyes; be sure to thank the host or organizer if applicable. Immediately enter your new contacts into your database before you forget who they are and where you met them. It is also essential that you follow up with each contact, including those you identified as already knowing. Make it easy for them to help you by explaining exactly how they can be helpful. People may be willing to talk with you about your career plans, allow you to job shadow for a day, pass your resume along, get you involved in their current campaign, and in addition, the potential for collaboration after you start working. If you do have a follow up meeting, they make a reference for you, or help you in any way write a thank you note. Tell your contact how much he or she has helped you and refer to something specific.
Networking is an investment in your future. Those people you meet today could become your future employer, an important resource or a future partner. Maintain your contacts. Let them know what you are up to, when you change jobs, or that you have seen something important that they have done, for example, “Bill, I saw that article you wrote on the housing crisis- I found it fascinating. Good luck with the new initiative!” Making new contacts and maintaining relationships will open doors for you both in your job search and once you are well established in the professional world.