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Network Successfully By Asking Five Smart Questions

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The only thing I ever got from a networking event was a stack of business cards until I changed my mindset. When I was a new social worker, I underestimated the value of connections related to my ability to boost my social work income. I only thought that networking could improve my upward mobility. Now as a seasoned social work veteran, I understand that networking is a tool for building meaningful business relationships. Meaningful business relationships fundamentally increase opportunities to boost social work income using part-time jobs or second gigs.

Trainings, workshops, or association meetings are the easiest venues for social workers to connect with other social workers. Social workers should also consider events that are not exclusively sponsored by or for the social work profession. Non-social work events provide an expanded opportunity to meet like-minded people outside of the profession. Plan to increase your chances for success. Begin by asking the following question.

What networking outcome do I want to achieve by attending this event?

Answering this question outlines your primary focus for participating in the event. Attending a training or seminar enables you to earn Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for licensure purposes and professional development. Earning CEUs, in this example is the outcome that you pay to achieve.  If you have thoughts of collaborating with other social work professionals, the training environment connects you with other social workers who have similar interests in that specific subject.

A meet and greet networking event allows you to interact with professionals at various levels of their careers. Keynote speakers and experts attend promoting their products, services or theories. Hundreds of professionals exchange business cards and information about their ventures. These large events sound promising, but can also cause frustration. Many people try to speak to the headliners in an attempt to sell themselves. Headliners are those individuals who are extremely successful in their specific field. When their name is spoken, people acknowledge their expertise and work.

At networking events, headliners are surrounded by people who want something from them. It may be an autograph, a picture, a job or a mentorship. They limit the amount of time they spend with those who are not at their level. They place a monetary value on their time and know how to preserve their time, energy and expertise.  This is a lesson social workers should learn. Your time has a monetary value and you can waste time and effort at networking events without research and strategic planning.

Who are the influencers in the headliner’s circle? How can I build a connection with them? 

This question can be answered with a little research. You almost always guarantee yourself an opportunity to meet and speak with a headline by building a business relationship with those in the headliner’s circle. Successful networking is precipitated on communicating win-win outcomes. Each person wants to feel they are gaining from the interaction. This is another reason that knowing your outcome and having a plan makes sense.

How many colleagues will I approach?

Once you are in the environment, the fourth question you should ask addresses how to achieve your desired networking outcome.  Set a goal for yourself related to the number of people you plan to approach. You are more likely to talk to others if you set a goal before you arrive.  You may also develop an estimate prior to arriving. Set your estimate using knowledge of the advertised business areas or topics. You may also reassess the goal based on your observations during the event. Do not underestimate the opportunity to talk with others while waiting in line.

Estimating the number of attendees by business area or topic will help you establish a reasonable goal for interactions. Having a strategy for initiating interactions is also important. Start by talking to the individuals sitting near you. Beyond the basics, ask them how they plan to use the information or how they plan to integrate it into their current work. This moves the chatting from small talk to meaningful conversation.  Listen more than you talk to show your interest. Also, share your plans for using the information. Ask probing questions, as appropriate to help you decide if you want to explore connecting on a professional level.

Does this information resonate with my professional vision, mission, and goals?

While this question sounds self-serving, it saves time and effort. Social workers who want to boost their income using part-time work and second gigs know the value of time. They, like headliners, set a monetary value to their time. If the person with whom you are talking does not appear to have a congruent vision, politely move on.

Meet and greet networking events are very similar to speed dating events. Smart questions, smart answers and strategic planning facilitate getting the outcome you desire. If you are not hearing things that resonate with your vision, mission or goals, then move on. Always remember that just because you want to build a relationship, it doesn’t mean the other person reciprocates. Recognize and respect the signs and signals you receive.

Marcyline L. Bailey is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified School Social Worker, Employee Assistance Specialist - Clinical and a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers.  Mrs. Bailey has over 20 years of experience as a professional social worker. She shares the questions social workers should ask to boost their career opportunities and income. She is the author of Five SMART Questions Social Workers should Ask (if they want to boost their social work income.) For more information www.happyhalfhour.club and www.forrealsocialworkers.com

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