Professional networking is integral to a successful counseling career. Once a counselor has completed a graduate degree in the field, the next step is to discover and explore challenging new professional opportunities through networking events and platforms. Networking simply means building trusting and valuable relationships with an emphasis on professional development. Individuals can network at industry events, during one-on-one meetings, or in small groups. Counselors can even network online through sites such as LinkedIn.
Remember that networking is not a fancy term for sales. Rather, networking is about building relationships with a goal of developing professional connections. With backgrounds in interpersonal relationships, counselors are often naturally skillful in creating and nurturing their professional networks. New counselors still gaining foundational experience must foster relationships in order to discover new opportunities, learn viable skills, and recognize trends. But networking isn't just about finding a job. It's also about sharing resources and knowledge among like-minded professionals. By networking, counselors open up new opportunities to be involved in research, thought leadership, public speaking, and professional association leadership.
How Do You Network in Counseling?
Different Types of Professional Networks in Counseling
Through networking, counselors create a fabric of personal and professional contacts to offer support, insight, feedback, information, and resources. Three types of networks exist: operational, personal, and strategic. Operational networks help group members build strong working relationships and work efficiently. Often wide and broad, personal networks enhance professional development by providing referrals and contacts. Strategic networks create leverage. They help counselors determine future priorities and challenges in order to gain stakeholder support.
Since they are not mutually exclusive, counselors can use all networking types. Each possesses certain disadvantages. In operational networks, success depends on mutual trust, rapport, and learning. Any missing factor increases the possibility of failure. Personal networks are external, meaning participants can shift from operational to personal goals. Finally, strategic networks require significant investments of time and energy.
Networking Events in Counseling
Counselors can leverage their network to get personal contacts who can generate career changes and drive results. Networking events occur in convention centers, at lectures and seminars, around job fairs, and at social events. Some networking events happen in online platforms such as LinkedIn.
Social networking allows counselors to improve their knowledge and counseling style. In a Q & A session, for example, listeners gain valuable feedback and learn how to develop and grow their skills. Besides participating in formal sessions, counselors who attend events can distribute business cards and engage in extra conversations.
Elevator Pitches in Counseling
An elevator pitch is a 25-30 second persuasive speech that informs the listener about you, your company, or your project. In your pitch, include details about yourself and your services, the impact of your services, a short description of how you work, and a call to action. Be careful that it doesn't sound like a sales pitch.
Start with a verbal snapshot of who you are and your industry specialization. Discuss your niche and your unique selling proposition, which distinguishes you from your competitors. Conclude with the benefits your listener can enjoy based on your accomplishments.
Social Networking Sites for Counseling Professionals
Social networking sites provide a platform to communicate with like-minded counseling experts. They can create a powerful space for sharing information across the industry. These sites also help link counselors and potential clients. Some sites offer a platform for companies to select and employ competent human service professionals.
Social networking platforms allow counselors to interact with people across the world. Globally connected counselors enjoy a more extensive reach and greater influence than those who stick close to home. Most sites are free to join, although they don’t provide the personal touch and connection of face-to-face interactions.
Tips for Networking in Counseling
Walking into a room full of strangers can be unnerving, and awkward moments are bound to crop up. You can minimize their impact by avoiding behaviors that are detrimental to a counselor's success at networking events. While good professional etiquette should see you through, keep these networking do's and don'ts in mind.
- Identify Your Niche: If you specialize in pediatric therapy, marriage and family work, or career counseling, let people know your niche right away. Others will direct you to the people and organizations that are specific to your work. By focusing on a niche, you also demonstrate authority and credibility, leading others to view you as an industry leader.
- Put Others First: Invest in helping your new connections before asking them to assist you. Pose questions, be curious, and honor others with your interest. Once you have deposited something good into other people's lives, they are more likely to return the favor. By positioning yourself as a helper, you also demonstrate empathy and leadership.
- Practice Your Listening Skills: Listening is one of a counselor's most-needed skills, and there is no better place to hone these skills than a networking event. Focus on others, listen to their answers, and apply what you learn. There is no greater compliment than genuinely listening to someone.
- Emphasize Quality Over Quantity: In the early days of networking, leaders often encouraged attendees to shake as many hands as possible during the event. This approach no longer works. Instead, find people who share your interests. Help them, ask for their best advice, and build a network of professional friendships.
- Look for Complementary Connections: As a specialized counselor, it may not be wise to spend time with those who work in your niche. Finding complementary professionals may be a better approach. For instance, a children's counselor might seek out school principals, teachers, and daycare leaders who can offer referrals.
Networking Event "Do's" for Counselors
- Set Goals: Know why you are going before you get there. A good rule of thumb is to identify two outcomes you want to achieve by attending the event. This practice helps you devote your time to the most productive activities instead of getting caught in distractions.
- Dress Appropriately: Choose professional attire for networking events. You do not have to outdress other attendees, but you should look neat, clean, and polished. Clothes reflect your view of yourself, so wearing a new dress or suit that makes you feel fabulous helps others see you that way, too.
- Bring Business Cards: Bring more cards than you think you will use. Always have one in hand so you don't have to search when you need it. A well-designed business card includes your name, contact information, and perhaps a headshot. The style should reflect the image of a professional counselor and match your personal brand.
- Be Concise: It's important to maximize your time at networking events. Keep your introduction to 2-3 sentences. By being short, accurate, and to the point, you avoid losing your listener's interest and you increase your chances of forming a genuine connection.
- Follow Up on Connections: Following up with new contacts lets them know that you are interested and reliable. An invitation to connect on LinkedIn, a quick email letting them know you enjoyed meeting them, or even a request to meet for a quick coffee solidifies your contact.
Networking Event "Don'ts" for Counselors
- Distribute Paper Copies of Your Resume: Never hand out business brochures or resume copies. You are there to learn, teach, and meet new people. Take time to understand people's needs and interests, focusing on how you can help others first. Handing out a resume shows a lack of interpersonal skills that does not reflect well on a counselor's ability to serve clients.
- Use a Shotgun Approach: Old-school networking encouraged attendees to hand out 50 business cards per hour. This approach rarely results in genuine, long-lasting, and mutually beneficial relationships. Remember that you are looking for new professional friends who share your skills or interests, not a magic number of contacts.
- Interrupt or Talk Over Others: Being interrupted is never pleasant. People remember those who interrupt them in conversation. Give your listeners the respectful gift of your time and attention. If you need to get away from a talkative person, do so as tactfully as possible by timing your interruption for a natural break in the conversation flow.
- Be Intimidated: Remember that even the most accomplished people are still just people. They're also looking for new connections. Keep your voice crisp, your handshake firm, and your gaze steady when meeting anyone, no matter how esteemed they are. When you project confidence, you set people at ease.
- Neglect to Follow Up on Connections: Failing to follow up is a common and costly error. New connections who have only met you once may forget your name, position, or other important information if the gap between a first meeting and a follow-up becomes too wide. A LinkedIn connection request is all you need to keep things moving.