The Value of Networking and Mentorship within Social Work

  • Students
  • Alumni

Navigating the career lifecycle can be challenging for soon-to-be-graduates and seasoned professionals alike. Whether it’s securing a first job, moving to a new one or rising in the ranks at the same organization, the question “Where do I start?” can feel overwhelming.  

This is where mentorship comes into play. Research reveals that having a designated person to talk to, share concerns with and even vent to is extremely beneficial—it helps relieve stress, gain a clear, new perspective and make more informed decisions.1 It’s also extremely enriching for the mentors, reinvigorating a sense of fulfillment in their work.2 

Mentees Asia McCready, MSW ‘18, and Emily Frumkin, MSW ‘18, along with their respective mentors, Nikita Hearns, MSW ‘12, and Debora Ribas-Santos, MSW ‘15, shared the many  benefits of mentorship in navigating their career lifecycle.

Students: Gaining an insider’s perspective

Social work students are passionate about their studies—they’ve chosen this path for a reason. But social work is a broad field and identifying the right clinical or organizational setting in which to start one’s career can be challenging. While internships and field placements are essential, they don’t always offer the personalized, one-on-one coaching that can be instrumental in addressing a student’s full scope of questions and uncertainties. 

“As a student, my main focus was discovering how I could immerse myself in this unique field. I knew I needed someone who could guide me through it,” McCready said. “With Nikita [Hearns], I was able to glean an insider’s view of the industry and build a meaningful professional—and personal—relationship, which we’ve maintained throughout a number of changes in each of our respective careers.”

Recent and soon-to-be grads: Preparing for the next chapter

Landing that first professional position is about so much more than scanning job boards—it requires interview preparation, resume building and connections. Working with a mentor is a valuable first step that a soon-to-be or recent graduate can take in order to build a network of professionals that can offer counsel for the immediate and long-term future. 

“My specialization—medical social work—is a bit niche, so I was looking to connect with someone entrenched in this field,” Frumkin said. “Debora [Ribas-Santos] works at one of the leading Los Angeles hospitals. We’d often meet over dinner—we’re both foodies—and she’d review my resume, offer interviewing advice specific to the field and answer all of my questions candidly,” she said. “She’d even text me when she learned about a potentially good job opportunity for me.” 

Mid-career professionals: Building the confidence to take that next step

Many social workers switch paths throughout their career lifecycle as they hone in on their specialty and as personal and professional goals shift. Whether it’s finding a new role in a non-traditional setting, starting a private practice or ascending into a higher management position, it’s crucial for any mid-career professional to have a trusted confidant they can turn to—someone who has navigated these waters before. 

“I agree with the saying, ‘A smart man learns from his mistakes; a wise man learns from others’ mistakes,’” Hearns said. “We all need to connect with someone who's gone down the path already—someone who can guide us along the way and help us avoid some of the potholes.”

Experienced professional: A way to give back

For experienced social workers, mentorship is a way to give back and help new and mid-career social workers alike maintain the passion that initially attracted them to the field. Social work is a rigorous profession, and it’s important for all members of the social work community to feel supported and united, lifting one another up as they dedicate their own lives to improving others’. 

“As a mentor, it’s been deeply rewarding to work with students and new social workers, addressing any of their questions or concerns and really just preparing them for what’s ahead,” Hearns said. “It’s also allowed me to stay immersed and active in the progression of the profession at large, keeping my finger on the pulse of new trends.” 

The long-lasting impact of social work networking

For mentors and mentees alike, mentorship often proves a rewarding experience, the benefits of which may extend throughout the course of their careers.

“Social work is about meeting people where they are and, in many ways, so is mentorship,” Ribas-Santos said. “It’s important to be present and open to the process, whatever shape it takes. I didn’t try to be the ultimate expert—I was just there to help.”

According to her mentee, Frumkin, that’s exactly what Ribas-Santos did. “Deborah [Ribas-Santos] was always available to answer my questions or even just listen—whether it was by phone or in person,” Frumkin said. “I found it reinvigorating to be around a passionate medical social worker and a Trojan. We’ve maintained a close relationship to this day.”

The USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work Alumni and Career Development resources provide information, networking opportunities, and connections with fellow alumni and community members to nurture a network of support. Additionally, Dworak-Peck Connect is our online networking platform that links alumni, students, staff, faculty, and friends of the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and its Department of Nursing with each other. Together, we can propel one another forward and create a close-knit, supportive community of social workers and nurses equipped with the professional skills necessary to thrive in the workforce.

16 Virtues, and 6 Vices, of Venting. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/201404/6-virtues-and-6-vices-venting

2Bidwell, L. Why Mentors Matter: A Summary of 30 Years of Research. Retrieved from https://www.successfactors.com/resources/knowledge-hub/why-mentors-matter.html

To reference the work of our faculty online, we ask that you directly quote their work where possible and attribute it to "FACULTY NAME, a professor in the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work” (LINK: https://dworakpeck.usc.edu)