Resilient first-generation students who graduate with degrees report positive outcomes throughout their college-going years, and upon graduation, throughout their careers, according to Gallup-Poll research. As you approach graduation, continue to persevere as you search for your first job out of college. As a first-generation college graduate, I understand what it’s taken for you to reach this accomplishment.
If I could go back and give advice to my college-age self, it would be this: find mentors and attend networking events that your college offers. You will be much more successful in landing your first job with help from mentors and connections made at networking events than applying to a bunch of jobs online.
As a first-generation college student at the University of Cincinnati many years ago, I was focused on my studies so I could graduate and my part-time job so I could make money. I didn’t have a support system within my family or friends to guide me on what it’s like to find a job. It wasn’t until I finally got my first job and was matched with a mentor that I realized how helpful mentors are.
What is a mentor?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary explains a mentor as a “trusted counselor or guide, tutor, coach.” To me, a mentor is someone who is your fan. They genuinely want to see you succeed and help you achieve your dreams.
Mentors can be formal or informal. Some companies offer formal mentoring programs where you’re matched in a mentor-mentee pair. I had a formal mentor at my first job. She was someone I could ask about my job responsibilities or ask for help in understanding office dynamics.
Informal mentors are more common. I’ve had many informal mentors throughout my career. In graduate school, one of my professors was an informal mentor. He opened my eyes to the different ways I could advance in my career, and he encouraged me to stay in school even if I felt like I didn’t fit in.
How do you find a mentor?
You can have multiple mentors at one time. To find a mentor, think about your communities. Is there a professor you want to learn more from? Stop by during their office hours. Is there someone you’ve met through work who you admire? Invite her to coffee. Is your college career office offering networking events? Attend!
Your goal is to start talking to people about what you want to do in your career. You might need to put yourself out there by sharing your passions and dreams so you can meet people who want to guide you.
Keep in mind that formal or informal mentors want to help you. They share the same interests as you. They may have benefited from a mentor in their past or are passionate about helping others. They want to pass on their knowledge and will value the relationship.
It’s never too late to find a mentor. If you’re a junior or senior in college, work on finding some mentors to support you as you graduate and find your first job. When you do find a mentor or meet informally with someone, come prepared with questions and be open-minded to the conversation.
Why first-generation colleges students need a mentor
The reality is that most jobs are found through networking, not by applying to jobs online. Many first-generation college students don’t have a family network to help them professionally. A mentor can help you find new job opportunities by recommending you to people at companies you want to work for, by answering your questions about what job titles mean, or by reviewing your resume. They are knowledgeable professionals who can help you translate your experience and interests into a format that will appeal to hiring managers. They are there to support you throughout your job search.
Keep in mind that you have taken impressive steps to be the first in your family to graduate college. You now have a career in front of you in which you will take new steps that continue to change your life. Finding your first job will take effort. It’s ok if it’s not your dream job. You want to find a job related to what you studied or your passion. Your career will evolve, and you will eventually work in a job that excites you. And mentors will be there to help you along the way.
—Amy Adkins-Dwivedi is a first-generation college graduate. She is the founder of #1 Premiere Continuing Education, which offers first-generation college students a last dollar scholarship with a mentoring program.