Magazine article The New Yorker

The Office

Magazine article The New Yorker

The Office

Article excerpt

Jessica Pliska is the founder and executive director of the Opportunity Network, a New York-based nonprofit that provides disadvantaged local high-school students with various forms of social capital: networking skills, e-mail etiquette, access to influential people. Most of the OppNet kids will be the first in their families to attend college, and even those whose grades and test scores are high enough to get them into top schools--Williams, Wesleyan, and Middlebury all accepted OppNet seniors this year--lack what Pliska calls "career fluency." "All that stuff that people like me and my friends take for granted, like what tone to strike in an e-mail, or what to say in an elevator, or how to write a college essay, or make a resume, or write thank-you notes," Pliska said the other day. "I went to Yale, and I had a support system, but these kids are so far outside the circle," she continued. "You can do all the right academic stuff, but when you go to an Ivy League school you are going into a different world. We are teaching them how to conduct themselves in a professional way, and how to dress professionally--we even have a consultant from Brooks Brothers come and talk to the kids!"

Pliska and twenty OppNet high-school seniors were at Facebook's New York headquarters, on Madison Avenue at Forty-third Street, awaiting a round of speed networking. Twenty members of Facebook's sales and marketing departments would interact with the OppNet kids in two-minute sessions, on fixed topics: Careers, College, Networks, Community/Background, Books. Pliska explained that speed networking was at the core of OppNet's methodology. "It's not just a way of meeting people and asking for favors--it gives you a set of skills you can use in any setting."

Peipei Zhou, a Facebook global-business-account manager, greeted everyone, and gave a short speech. "Facebook wants each and every one of us to make the world a more open and connected place," she said. "And it gives us a voice and an opportunity to be heard, and that's also the mission of the Opportunity Network. So awesome!" Zhou used the word "awesome" several times. She seemed to be very happy about working at Facebook. She led the kids on a tour of the offices, pointing out that they were unfinished--some of the concrete columns were unpainted--just as Facebook was unfinished, until it succeeded in its ultimate goal of connecting everyone on earth in a gigantic, never-ending speed-networking session. …

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