First-generation university graduates face more obstacles in the labor market

“I didn’t have any clubs in college. I couldn’t stand the time to go to them. I had to make money,” Miranda, who is now 25, said. “Even paid internships don’t pay well,” he says.

“I didn’t realize how many people were setting themselves up for success before graduation,” Miranda says. “My friends and I are late to the party.”

Until he also found his way into Braven’s career preparation course as a junior, Miranda didn’t know how to begin his job search. “We don’t have anyone to guide us. We just go to college, try to get good grades. We don’t have anyone to say, ‘Hey, you have to write your resume. You have to do your branding.'”

In comparison, he says, “People who have parents who went to college know things. First-generation college students have no idea what happens after college. Like what do you do? I didn’t know how to communicate or who to communicate with. I had no one.” .

Miranda landed a job as an operations manager at an Amazon fulfillment center, starting a career path he says he hopes will eventually lead him to sales. (Braven has no special relationship with Amazon.)

Even small things like a handshake can cause some college graduates to stumble, says NASPA’s Weintraub Stafford. “If you’re not in an environment that taught you the traditional meaning of a handshake as it relates to the corporate world, that would be a stark experience for you and the person you meet,” she says.

A very small number of colleges and universities are aware of the unique problems first-generation students face in finding their first jobs after graduation and are adding programs to help them.

UC Berkeley now offers career advice specifically for first-generation and low-income students, including resume reviews, assistance with LinkedIn profiles, and a semester-long careers course. The University of Toledo hosts a networking series to help these students connect with employers and alumni and an internship preparation program to teach them resume writing, communication, and other skills.

Last year, Cal State Fullerton launched a program called I Am First, which brings working first-generation graduates to mentor younger peers who are still enrolled, says Jennifer Mujaro, director of that university’s Career Center. Among other things, the program teaches salary negotiation skills.

“It’s scary to admit that you don’t know ‘how to get a job after college,'” Mojarro says. It’s stressful, too. “Their parents get really excited about being college students, and that can be scary too, because it all falls on them.”

A few nonprofits, such as Braven—which bring their professional courses to universities and community colleges with large percentages of first-generation and low-income students—also collaborate with colleges to provide this type of support.

Amy Eubanks Davis, founder and CEO of Braven, was working in New Orleans as a school teacher whose students were largely first-generation and low-income when she realized the need for such help.

“I would watch my students step out of college and be terrified of where they had come,” Davis says. Although they held the same credentials as their peers—often working harder to do so—they lost the “almost invisible set of benefits” that exist for students whose parents had a college education and had good relationships.

Braven matches students with instructors who work at participating companies. “This coach is often the first person these students know in the professional workforce,” Davis says.

Although it covers everything from what clothes to wear to an interview to when to send a thank-you letter, Braven’s approach is largely about building trust, she says. “A lot of that has to do with the narrative and the story told externally.” Students are reminded that “their experiences in life, even if they are rough, obstructive, and imperfect, are actually what make them truly wonderful and truly resilient.”

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