5 Career Tips: Networking in the Social Work Profession

Social workers interested in networking may find the perspective of businessman Ivan Misner helpful. Misner is the founder and current chairman of BNI International, a global networking company, and chairman of the board of the Referral Institute, which provides training in expanding businesses via referrals.

In a November 2012 blog post, “A New Definition of Networking,” Miser described networking as: “The process of developing and activating your relationships to increase your business, enhance your knowledge, expand your sphere of influence or serve the community.” Misner’s description of a “hunting versus farming” mentality may be useful to social workers who want to grow their professional network:

  • “Hunters” run from one event to another, grabbing and passing business cards with very little interaction beyond diligently adding the card to their database. They believe that the bigger the list, the better their network. Consider the digital version of a hunter as some collecting friends on Facebook.
  • “Farmers,” on the other hand, cultivate and grow authentic relationships with the people they want to include in their network. There is a steady reciprocal process of interacting so that everyone benefits.

As you consider whether to be a hunter or farmer, here are five networking opportunities that can help you begin to develop relationships and build a community of support and influence for your professional life:

1. An immediate place to begin is USC’s Social Work Alumni Association. Here, you can find volunteer opportunities, networking events, career advice, a job bank, information on what other social work alumni are doing and the e-newsletter, NewsBytes. Also consider joining one of USC’s Alumni Association groups. There are several of them, based loosely on location and demographics: generational, multi-cultural, campus-based and women’s groups.

2. The National Association of Social Work (NASW), the professional organization of social workers, has a number of ways for social workers to network, including Specialty Practice Sections that run the gamut from child welfare to social and economic justice and peace, depending on your area of concentration. NASW also provides the latest practice information, conferences and continuing education opportunities for its 145,000 members. They monitor and advocate for policies that affect social workers and their clients. All 50 states have an NASW chapter, and there is also membership with the national organization.

3. Attending conferences is an excellent way to network while continuing to build your skills and learning about cutting-edge practices in your field. You can consider attending conferences of colleague organizations, particularly those that offer workshops, seminars or continuing education in your area of interest. For example, the California Psychological Association has a calendar of continuing education offerings on depression, child sexual abuse, eating disorders, healthy aging and many other topics. The American Counseling Association may also provide networking opportunities and continuing education units for social workers to maintain their licenses.

4. Use your social media savvy to network with others as well. NASW hosts a LinkedIn official group page, Facebook page, Twitter feed and its own YouTube channel. Both the Social Work Alumni Association and USC alumni sites have social media options as well. Additional networking spaces online include social work community sites and Twitter influencers, such as Social Work TodaySocial Work Helper and Social Work Social Care Media.

5. Volunteer opportunities can enhance your skills while expanding your social work network. Local social service agencies often rely on volunteers to run their food banks, read to or tutor children, staff thrift stores or prepare meals for the homeless. Well-known service organizations like the American Red Cross, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Catholic Charities or Big Brothers/Big Sisters usually rely on volunteers in their local offices. Organizations that can direct you to volunteer opportunities and may themselves have networking possibilities are the Corporation for National and Community ServiceIdealist and Volunteer Match.