Everyone talks about how important it is to build your professional network to advance in your career, but getting started can feel awkward or intimidating.
If that feeling is holding you back, remember that networking is just another form of relationship building–a process rooted in genuine curiosity and a desire to get to know the other person well. To begin:
- Think about what you’re interested in talking about or who you might want to learn from or share your aspirations with. You can start the conversation with those you know, such as your peers, professors, mentors, current and past co-workers, and field supervisors. They may even recommend others to reach out to.
- At the same time, don’t be afraid to cold contact those you don’t yet know. Online networking platforms liked LinkedIn make it easier to connect with others, particularly those within your school network, such as CSSW’s LinkedIn Group, and other interest-based communities.
- Don’t limit yourself to “networking” platforms and events either. Any opportunity where you can engage with others with shared interests and goals, including social and community events, volunteer activities, and online forums, is a prime way to bridge a new connection.
Whomever you choose to connect with, make sure that the engagement isn’t one-sided or transactional. Just like in any meaningful relationship, even if you’re the one asking for insights and advice, you can demonstrate your respect and appreciation by letting them know how their support impacted you or sharing information and resources that may be of benefit to them.
In honor of First-Generation College Student Day celebrated yesterday, we would like to a give special shout-out to our first-generation students and alumni who are continuing to blaze a trail for themselves, their families, and communities and making their mark in the field of social work!
If you are currently pursuing opportunities as early career professionals or seeking to advance to leadership roles, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
- Know that you have a lot to offer. Start by embracing the knowledge and strengths you’ve built. Your resourcefulness, determination to succeed, and ability to both navigate uncertainty and complex systems and adapt to changing needs are all qualities that employers highly value. Keep a record of your unique skills and accomplishments and practice sharing them with others so you can feel confident conveying them to prospective employers.
- Build a support system. A healthy support system can offer validation and a safe space to bounce off ideas and concerns. Continue investing time in developing your trusted community of mentors, professionals, former supervisors, peers, faculty, and college administrators who can share resources, information, and potential access to opportunities. To find community on campus, check out the events hosted by the Graduate Initiative through University Life and reach out to the student leaders of the CSSW’s First Generation Lower SES Caucus.
- Be proactive in seeking resources. Continue to use resources inside and outside of Columbia to increase your knowledge around job searching, networking, negotiating salary, and advancing in the workforce. For instance, you can learn about the unspoken rules of the workplace and how to get ahead in your career from this HBR IdeaCast episode, Career Rules You Didn’t Learn in School, take a self-paced salary negotiation program with AAUW online, or attend the National Urban League’s professional development webinars. You can also participate in networking and leadership development activities through professional organizations such as the Network for Social Work Management. Links to similar resources are also readily featured in our enews, blog, and Career Connect resource library.
As highlighted in an article by Live Career, “learning how to connect with your peers, professors, and community is crucial for both personal and professional development”.
Professors, in particular, are invaluable resources from whom you can learn more about different areas of interest and opportunities within the field.
Wondering how to best connect with them beyond the classroom? Here are a few tips to keep in mind, whether you’re just starting the program or continuing:
- Research your professors to get a better sense of their background, interests, and achievements
- When reaching out to schedule a meeting, provide a very brief overview of your goals and interests and why you want to meet (e.g. what you hope to learn)
- Make the most of the time you have with them by coming prepared with targeted questions
- In all your interactions, whether virtual or in-person, be open, sincere, and mindful of how you communicate
- Ask for feedback and keep them updated on any developments, especially if you’ve followed through on any advice they gave you
Professors will likely be more receptive to your outreach while you’re a student, so be sure to take advantage of the opportunity before you graduate. This also applies to building relationships with peers, supervisors, and administrators. Investing in this effort will not only help you stand out and stay memorable, but it can also potentially open doors for years to come!
Whether you’re just starting out in your career or thinking about making a move, following a plan will help you move forward and help you get to where you want to be. This article by the Wall Street Journal offers 3 easy steps to help you get started with forging your career path:
- Engage in self-reflective activities to help identify your core values and strengths – consider what lifestyle is most important to you, what attributes have remained constant, and what expertise you’ve developed over the course of your academic and professional life
- Seek trusted advice from mentors and professionals in your field to learn from their career paths, discuss your career goals, and/or tap into their professional expertise to learn about the industry
- Identify and develop the key skills and knowledge most in-demand within the areas you are interested in and be able to articulate how you can contribute to potential employers
The Office of Alumni Relations and Office of Career Services and Leadership Management are pleased to resume our career mentorship program for the spring semester!
The program will run from Monday, February 1 through Friday, May 28. Requests will be accepted until Friday, May 14.
Mentoring Program Overview
Through this program, students can request to connect with up to 3 alums per month for 1:1 conversations to:
- Gain insights and perspectives about a career path, field, organization, or industry;
- Get advice about career planning, searching and applying for jobs (including resume writing), networking, interviewing, or navigating life after CSSW; OR
- Seek support in general from someone who’s been in your shoes as a student
- Fill out this mentoring program interest form. On the form, you will find a link to a directory with a list of more than 300 alumni volunteer mentors who are eager to meet you! Select the one you’re interested in meeting. Note that you will have to complete this form for each request.
- After submitting the form, you will receive an email confirmation as well as an introductory email from Jennifer March from Alumni Relations connecting you to the alum of choice within a few business days. If you don’t hear from Jennifer in that time frame, please email her directly at [email protected] to follow up.
- Once you receive the email, it will be your responsibility to arrange a meeting directly with the alum using the contact information provided. While Zoom meetings are recommended, you can choose a platform that works best for both you and the alum.
Remember: This is NOT a forum to ask for a job or a recommendation for a job, but rather an opportunity to gather valuable information based on their knowledge and expertise.
After the initial meeting, it will be up to you and the alum to decide whether to continue to stay in touch.
For general questions about our alumni mentors, please email Jennifer March at [email protected].
For guidance on how to prepare for a meeting, refer to our Informational Interview Guide. You can also view free, on-demand webinars on informational interviewing (and other career development topics) from LinkedIn Learning, or schedule an appointment with the career team to discuss further.
We hope you take advantage of this special opportunity!
We know this is a hectic time for everyone, whether you are strategizing your post-grad job search or looking for summer opportunities. If you’re seeking some direction, see some highlighted tips below to get you started. Additional tools and resources, including links to 50+ job search sites, are also available within Career Connect.
Getting started can be the hardest part. Break down the process into smaller, achievable parts and create a timeline and action plan using organizers to track your progress. This will allow you to recognize and celebrate mini-wins that you achieve along the way, which in turn can help you stay motivated and focused.
There is foundational work that can be achieved now as part of the process, which includes 1) building a target list of organizations and opportunities you’re interested in based on your skills, interests, and goals, 2) networking to learn more about them, and 3) preparing resumes that highlight relevant skills and accomplishments. You can also register for upcoming employer events, including our MSW Job Fair on Friday, March 26, to learn more about different organizations and opportunities.
Job searching can be a multi-hurdled process for international candidates seeking to work in the US, which requires additional knowledge and action steps. Review these tips for guidance. Make sure to also attend ISSO’s workshops on Optional Practical Training (OPT) if you haven’t already, and get in touch with their advisors to learn more about legal steps for pursuing employment.
If you need more support, we welcome you to join our Job Search Support Group for International Students, which will meet bi-weekly on Wednesdays starting February 3 until March 31, from 12:00 to 1:00 PM. You can choose to attend as many sessions are you want. Join us via Zoom.
Summer is a great time to practice a new skill, find meaningful work, and build connections with professionals in the field. Review the career and volunteer pages of organizations of interest for the most up-to-date information on potential opportunities. Most of these organizations do not post on school job boards but may do so on sites such as Idealist. Volunteering is always a substantive way to build experience, if a feasible option.
For those who are more experienced in the field, sites like Taproot offers skills-based and pro-bono opportunities for organizations in need, and UN Online Volunteers and Columbia Global Centers offer remote opportunities with international organizations. Visit our fellowships page to find sample opportunities. Note that the pandemic may have impacted the needs and capacities of many organizations and the opportunities they are able to offer during the summer.
Want to learn about organizations seeking your talent? During the spring term, a number of employers will be hosting recruitment and information sessions on opportunities for graduating students and alumni.
Take advantage of these events to connect with recruiters and hiring managers, learn about their organization, gain insight into what they’re looking for in candidates, and enhance your chances of landing a job!
Here are some tips to make the most of the events and to stand out:
- Research the organization beforehand to get a sense of their services, impact, and the communities they serve.
- Be prepared to share a quick introduction about your interests, strengths, and career goals.
- Present your best self to make a strong first impression by following good video meeting etiquette, which includes keeping an appropriate background and dressing for the workplace (i.e. no pajamas!)
- Prepare and ask thoughtful questions that demonstrate your knowledge, interest, and curiosity to learn more about their organization, values, and culture. You can also inquire about opportunities for growth, training, and professional development, as well as transferable skills they value, especially if you are a career changer or don’t yet meet certain requirements.
- Have an updated resume readily available. Some employers ask for resumes before or after the event. Follow the instructions provided by the career office or employer on how and where to submit your resume for consideration.
- After the event, follow up to personally thank them (BONUS: Reference something you learned from the session to make yourself even more memorable!)
NOTE: Some events may be presentation style, while others, interactive. Be prepared to engage accordingly. We recommend keeping your camera on or at least when asking questions but understand if that may not be feasible for some. Engagement can also include commenting in the chat and unmuting to ask a question when appropriate.
The global COVID-19 pandemic, sociopolitical climate, and accompanying distress — particularly for BIPOC communities that have been disproportionately impacted — have brought added challenges to an already stressful job-hunt process. For those graduating next spring, these challenges may feel particularly pressing.
The importance of self-care cannot be understated, especially during these times, and we encourage prioritizing it in your search and overall career management strategy. This may include monitoring your energy; setting mini-goals, and adjusting them as needed; as well as finding support and community within and outside of your personal, professional, and CSSW network, including one-on-one appointments with our office.
Students can receive additional support through our mentorship program, a new initiative started in the spring that facilitates connections to alumni for career insights and advice. BIPOC-identified students can also participate in our upcoming Communities of Color event, an annual program designed to connect and engage students and alumni of color in candid career conversations within a dedicated support space.
See below for more tips and resources on navigating the job search, as highlighted in last week’s webinar:
- Treat job searching as a process. Allow time to reflect on how you can contribute to an organization so that you can tailor your search for opportunities that speak to your strengths, interests, and values.
- Break down the process into smaller, achievable parts. These may include clarifying your goals and direction through a self-assessment, establishing your target list by conducting research on organizations that have missions that you care about, and learning more about career options and opportunities through informational interviews.
- Create a timeline and action plan using organizers to track your progress. This will allow you to recognize and celebrate mini-wins that you achieve along the way, which in turn can help you stay motivated and focused.
Remember, you’re not alone on this journey — there’s a community you can turn to for support. Take a moment to assess what networks and supports might be most helpful for you, not only for landing a meaningful role but also for maintaining your momentum and well-being for the long haul.
If you missed our webinar, you can find the presentation slides in Career Connect within our Document Library under the Workshops / Webinars / Presentations folder.
Does the idea of conducting informational interviews feel intimidating?
Consider thinking of them as “curiosity conversations”—opportunities to make meaningful connections with folx in your field and gain insights and advice that will help you move forward in your career development.
If you missed our information interviewing webinar last week, here are some key takeaways:
- Clarify your interests, needs, and goals to assess what knowledge and insights will help you move forward in your career exploration.
- Identify contacts from your network who possess the background or expertise in your area of interest, including through the CSSW LinkedIn Group or career mentoring program for students.
- Prepare a brief overview of your professional experience and an agenda for the meeting to ensure you leave with your “must” takeaways.
- Ask thoughtful questions that can provide actionable insights and build upon what you already know.
- Make sure to follow-up with a thank you note and keep the contact up-to-date on your progress.
You can find the presentation slides in Career Connect within our Document Library under the Workshops / Webinars / Presentations folder.