Advice I have been given time and again since entering into the SW program is about the importance of networking. I have heard warnings given in classes about how it is a tight knit community of social workers locally, everyone knows one another so your reputation is important. I have also been told that who you know may have a lot to do with what job offers you get so getting your name out there and making connections is crucial.
This all felt a bit overwhelming to me at first, the idea of networking that is. I thought networking meant having to sell yourself to others, it felt contrived and very disingenuous. I think I got this impression from working at the bank. There would be networking events and it all felt so phony, people rubbing elbows and laughing fake laughs at jokes that are not funny. Being the introvert that I am, I had no earthly idea how to approach networking. I knew I couldn’t fake sincerity for the sake of advancement not to mention that I am the worst at forced interaction. Small talk and idle banter while easy for some, for me is more like trying to walk around with my shoes on the wrong feet, it is clunky and unnatural.
One year later though I realize that networking is not some scary beast I have to somehow conquer and I certainly do not have to morph into an inauthentic version of myself to do it. Moreover I understand now that one of the key ingredients in making a meaningful connection is authenticity, faking anything would be nothing but counter productive anyway. What a relief. After all, that is all networking really is anyway, making connections.
What was I so afraid of? This all occurred to me today after a made yet another great connection at Hospice while working my volunteer shift. I was manning the front desk when one of the LCSWs walked by. She and I have never formerly met, I believe she works in the field and may only come in for weekly team meetings. I recognize her every time because she was at the CEU event last fall I attended. Apparently she remembered me as well because today she stopped and introduced herself after her meeting. She said she did in fact remember me from the training and asked what my connection to social work was, I told her and then she asked if I would like to meet with her sometime so we could talk social work. I was thrilled, Yes, I would love to!
Networking. Just like that. I am eager to hear about her role with hospice, I think she visits patients in facilities and at home, I could be wrong. If I am right though I am very curious about the work she does. That is something that I feel a bit unsure of, the thought of going to a client’s home. I have heard stories about safety issues etc and I wonder what that looks like in real life, I would love to hear her take on it. Either way I am thrilled to have another opportunity to make a connection with someone in the field and learn from someone with experience.
I recognize now that while networking can be this elbow rubbing, fake laughing show it can also be very straightforward and heartfelt. I find in my experiences with networking in this field so far that it is more likely that any networking that takes place does so naturally. Nothing has felt manipulated or forced. In most cases it was just ordinary happenstance that led to a connection being made. It seems silly now that I was ever concerned with it at all.