Unfamiliar Territory: Handling the Job Search as a First Generation College Student

Starting and navigating the job search can be stressful and a challenge for any student, but it can be even more so for those who are first generation college students. For someone who didn’t grow up around others who had been to college, terms like “industry” and “field” may be unfamiliar and confusing. Even knowing where to find positions that are suitable for someone with a college degree can be a challenge. Asking for help in navigating this new terrain can be difficult simply because you may not have a foundation for thinking about your future career, so it’s hard to know what questions to ask. For example, asking an advisor, “When should I begin applying for jobs after graduation?” will get the response, “It depends on what industry you are interested in.” However, this could then lead the student to ask, “What exactly is an industry, and how do I know which one I should go into?”

Although most students at Penn come from a background where their parents and other close associates have graduated college and are familiar with the post-graduation job search process, there are many students who don’t have the same support system, and face added stress and uncertainty in their job searches. From my own experience in this situation, I’ve found the following tips to be helpful:

Take Advantage of the Cultural Centers

Many students view the cultural centers at Penn as primarily a way to meet people from their own culture or background, or to learn about other cultures through fun and engaging activities and events. While this is true, cultural centers can also be a place of support in your job search as a first generation college student. It is likely that there are other students who are going through the same situation, and can share advice. The staffs of the cultural centers are also a good resource, as they have experience working with students who are first generation college students, and many of them are well-connected and may even be willing to share contacts with you.

Take Advantage of Penn Alumni

Connecting with alumni who have gone through the same process can help you get an idea of what a successful job search after college is like. Thanks to Penn’s diversity, there are actually a lot of alumni in various industries and positions who were first generation college students, and would be willing to share advice with you on how they got to where they are today, and to refer you to other contacts during your job search. With the new QuakerNet, you can search by multiple filters, including student involvement, and Penn-related and personal interests to easily find helpful alumni.

Take Advantage of Career Services

Once you have a better sense of what the job search process involves, Career Services can help you with the specifics of job searching, interviewing, and negotiating offers.

Author: Ebony

Ebony Brown is the administrative assistant for the graduate group in Career Services.