I am real world incompetent. Or, at least I was after I traded my soul, four years and $40,000 of Sallie Mae's money to obtain the ultimate beacon of success and all things intellectually acceptable to society, my bachelor's degree.
As I sat through my graduation ceremony, I reminisced on the nights I neglected my studies to go to some random shindig in another town or decided to forgo my standing library date to frolic with my friends across the verdant greens of another nearby university. I basked in the reality that I could virtually step foot on any college campus in the triangle area of North Carolina and be at home. It was not too shabby for someone who began her college career as a selective mute.
"Those days have swiftly come to an end," I thought wistfully to myself. It was there, sitting among my hungover colleagues drenched in graduation black and perspiration, that another devastating reality hit me: I had learned nothing in undergrad to prepare me for the real world.
Sure, I knew about Pavlov's dog and Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I was not, however, going to lead with BF Skinner's theory on the illusion of free will when filling out paperwork for my taxes.
Had I gone and wasted four unredeemable and uncommonly lackadaisical years on spontaneous, one-night friendships and short-lived euphoria? Well, yes, I had, and that's perfectly fine.
These “frivolous” interactions with randoms in passing were really just masquerading as networking opportunities. Not that negotiating my way into a popular party manifested itself into my dream career, but those situations that called for intense negotiations definitely afforded me great practice.
My undergraduate career taught me how to network like nobody's business, which has ended up being more valuable than any degree could have ever been. Here are three rules I cultivated in undergraduate networking that carried over into life after college:
1. Aim for the plug.
The plug should always be your goal. In terms of networking, the plug is the source from whence all dreams come true. To better illustrate this concept, consider the characters in "The Devil Wears Prada." We are all Andrea (Anne Hathaway), and our goal is to “make it” in fashion. In this scenario, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) is the source; she is who we need to network our way to.
Emily, on the other hand (Miranda's senior assistant), is what we would call the connect. She's someone who has ties to the source, but has no real power in decision-making. The faster you can network your way past the connects and up to the source, the sooner you can be feasting on bonbons in the south of France. Or, at least you'll be able to afford your rent each month.
2. Everybody is somebody.
You never know how much influence a person can have. Although the connect doesn't have power per se, all connects have to be tied to a source; it's the only thing that makes them relevant. The best way to play it safe is to treat people as if they're the source. Chances are, if they're not the source, they can lead you to it.
3. Leave uncertainty at the door.
If there's one thing that could ruin your chances of networking success, it's uncertainty. There's nothing worse than negotiating with people who look as if they're second-guessing themselves.
Have some confidence in yourself. The worst that could happen is one source denies you an opportunity. On the flip side of this, there's an infinite amount of sources you can tap into to make your dreams come true.