Network Early and Often

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Networking. You may love it or the very idea of it may fill you with dread; but the reality is, it can help you throughout your career and it’s never been easier to accomplish. Three National Association of Social Workers (NASW) members from across the country describe how networking has led them to jobs, enhanced their work and much more.

“Many social workers are in jobs where we are the only social worker in the organization, so it’s important for making relationships in the field to be with people with similar educational backgrounds and values and build a sense of community,” said Christina Paddock, Clinical Associate Professor, Field Education at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, University of Southern California.

Paddock has been an active member of the NASW California Chapter for 20 years. She is currently on the chapter’s board and is the chair of its Image Council, which works to dispel myths about social workers’ roles.

Specialty Networking

In contrast, Antonio Ruberto, Jr, MS, LCSW-R, CASAC, has been an NASW member since 2007, but only started to really take advantage of the networking in the past couple of years. He's senior director of behavioral health at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in New York, and  operates a private practice. He's chair of NASW's Alcohol, Tobacco & Other Drugs (ATOD) Specialty Practice Section.

“It’s been wonderful to connect with social workers around the country through this practice section and get different perspectives,” said Ruberto. “At 15 years into my career, I hadn’t experienced much of that before — especially working in one place for the past 11 years — and it’s really broadened my view.”

Widening Your Perspective

Tara Wallace, MSW, LSCSW, CTF-CBT, is chair of the NASW Social and Economic Justice & Peace Specialty Practice Section. She points out that social workers are ethically obligated to be aware of things that impact their clients, and that they gain an understanding of larger issues through networking.

“You might have a tendency to stay in your local community, but you can’t,” she explained. “Social workers have to look beyond our local communities because so much of what happens outside of them impacts our job. Networking helps us be knowledgeable about the world. For example, maybe you’re not a climate change expert, but you need to know that pollution impacts the way your client presents.”

Both Paddock and Wallace say they obtained jobs thanks to their networking efforts. And Ruberto credits his networking efforts for being able to return to the Center years after he interned there.

“The connections I made during my internship and maintained after I left on good terms helped me return years later,” he said.

How to Get Involved

Paddock, Ruberto and Wallace all agree that NASW offers networking opportunities to suit individual preferences. The organization and the profession are focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. All are welcome to participate in NASW, and students and recent graduates are eligible for reduced rates.

Paddock has worked diligently on issues within the NASW California Chapter and met many people that share her passion for promoting the right image of social workers. Ruberto wrote an article for NASW about working in private practice virtually at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Wallace connects on committees and advocacy issues that are important to her.

Each note that there are many ways to connect with other social workers, such as online topic-specific discussion forums, Facebook groups, virtual training events and in-person events, such as board meetings. Some are for members, while others are open to everyone, including non-members and the public. 

“There are more opportunities now to connect,” said Ruberto. “If there is a bright side to COVID, it’s the accessibility that Zoom calls have brought.”

Beyond forming and maintaining relationships, networking also builds skills. “There are also many opportunities for leadership, as there are always changes in board membership,” added Paddock. “NASW California nurtures leadership and we encourage you to run for office.”

It’s never too early to get involved.

“I would tell [current students] to join, because the NASW resources are so valuable,” said Wallace. “Had I known how important these things were, I would have gotten involved with NASW as a student for access to resources, training and knowledge.”

Learn how all social workers can connect with NASW. And become a member today to take full advantage of NASW’s membership and networking opportunities.

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