Won’t you network with me, Ugly Betty??

30 01 2009

So, it seems that I can connect anything – yes, ANYTHING – to TV. The jury’s still out on whether or not this is a neat quirk of mine, or just plain sad…

uglybettyAnyway, to explain why I say this: earlier this week, as the conversation in my career management class turned to the subject of networking, my mind immediately jumped to an episode of Ugly Betty from a few weeks ago. As my teacher, Barry Waite, talked to the class about the networking assignment we’ll be completing this semester, I could not help but be reminded of “Dress for Success,” an episode in which the really-not-so-ugly Betty is required to do some networking for a course she is enrolled in. Similar to what I’ve been hearing since day one of my PR education, Betty is told that if she wants to get anywhere in her career, she MUST network. She is instructed to obtain 40 new business contacts within a week by networking. Faced with this task, Betty is nervous and intimidated by the whole situation, and frankly, so am I.

Throughout the episode, Betty’s colleagues offer their views on networking, which are not at all unlike what I’ve been hearing for the last five months:

“Networking is one of those annoying things, but if you’re serious about your career, it’s something you have to do.”

“The point of networking is to gather information to advance your career.”

Now, I do understand that networking is important and can help my future career, but like Betty, I have some reservations. The idea of talking to people just so that I could potentially use them to get ahead irks me. It feels fake and forced, and I just don’t like it. I know that in this industry, I need to sell myself and my skills if I want to succeed, but there is a fine line between selling myself and selling a fake networking version of myself.

To help Betty overcome her worries about networking, her co-worker Marc, takes her out and offers some advice:

“Step 1: forge a bond – your name, where you work, and one memorable fact. Step 2: fathering information – in order to get info, you’re going to have to give info. The trick is to make it sound juicy, but really mean nothing. And most importantly, step 3: the exit strategy – get in, get info, get out.”

To this, Betty responds as though she’s in my head: “I don’t like to be rude. How do you just stop someone in the middle of a conversation?” This is MY problem – I can’t be rude! I can’t fake interest and then rudely walk away – I’m just not wired like that. To me, building contacts and forming a professional network is more about quality than quantity. I would much prefer to have a few good, solid contacts in the PR world than a ton of business cards from people I don’t really know. Who’s going to remember you – or LIKE you – when you only spend a minute talking with them, clearly using them? I don’t want to get in, get info, and get out. I don’t want to have a two minute conversation with someone, give them my card, and move on – I want to have actual conversations with people in this industry I’m getting into. I want to be remembered as myself, not a fake person who has a nice business card. Although, I don’t actually have business cards yet… Oh Betty, I still have so much to learn from you!