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How to Find Resources for First Generation Professionals

Mateo Sánchez Morales

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Three friends catching up and drinking beer outside in the fall.

Are you a first generation professional? You may belong to this demographic without knowing that there is even a term for it. First generation professionals are those who are the first in their families to enter the professional workforce.

You may also find that colleges often offer guidance to students who are first in their families to go to college. And while earning a degree as a first generation college student is a huge success and sign of resiliency in a difficult academic world, the first generation experience doesn’t end there

Understanding the identity of first generation professionals

Many first generation professionals and their communities face institutional barriers that have historically made it difficult for them to obtain college degrees. For this reason, being a first generation professional may result in feeling pressure and responsibility to pave paths for other family or community members. The emotional effects of being a first generation professional can include feelings of loneliness and imposter syndrome.

Tips for thriving in the workplace

Understandably, entering the professional workforce can feel most intimidating for someone who might not have a point of reference. If you are a first generation professional, here’s how to integrate yourself into the professional world and find a support network to not only become comfortable in this environment, but learn to thrive in it. 

Be patient with yourself 

Don’t forget that as a first generation professional, you have likely already made it through the highly competitive academic world that is college. 

For example, filling out forms you’re not familiar with can be intimidating, but this can also be an exciting opportunity to learn about benefits you never knew existed. Culture and language often varies from workplace to workplace and that’s something that you’ll have to adapt to regardless of how much you read up on common workplace lingo. Rather than feeling like you’re responsible for any confusion, remind yourself that starting a new job comes with a learning curve, no matter who you are.

Professional development

Many workplaces offer opportunities for professional development to everyone on staff. If you are starting a new job, ask about available professional development opportunities. Sometimes these opportunities are offered within the organization, and sometimes workplaces have designated budgets for staff to seek outside workshops, conferences, courses, etc. 

If there is a budget for professional development, use it. And if not, make a proposal for your organization to support your professional growth. You can consider taking the following steps to guide this process:

  • Research professional development options and select the ones you think would be most beneficial to you and your organization.
  • Schedule a meeting to discuss these options with your supervisor.
  • Prepare notes for your meeting with details such as the type of program you would like to pursue and the budget requirements. 

Networking 

As you get to know your peers, whether that’s when you're in a new job, interviewing for positions, or attending grad fairs, you’ll quickly find others with different, and sometimes nontraditional backgrounds. This might make you feel less alone in your experience, but will also provide you with a diverse network to rely on throughout your career.

Schedule informal interviews to talk with others about how they got to where they are now. This is a good way to gain connections and potentially even find mentors. Similarly, people who share your background as a first generation professional can be very supportive in talking about any challenges you are facing.

Some first generation professionals have found community and support through social media. For example, @firstgenprofessional on Instagram offers workshops, covering topics like imposter syndrome, home ownership, and budgeting for people who are the first in their family to enter the professional workforce. Every week, this account highlights first-generation professionals sharing their experiences within a well-standing career.

If this community is not accessible to you, try to see if there are similar local communities where you are from, or take inspiration to create your own similar social media networks and connect with others. 

Inclusive workplace culture

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts have become a priority for many employers, encouraging workplaces to be inclusive for all staff. Even the U.S. Government has created an initiative to support first generation professionals to thrive as federal employees. 

Being inclusive of a diverse workforce has become a national conversation that encourages workplaces to redefine professionalism in ways that are supportive. Make sure you view your own experiences not in a way that limits you, but rather in a way that inspires you and propels you into a successful future.

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Mateo Sánchez Morales

Mateo Sánchez Morales is a bilingual writer and community organizer. With a history of immigration advocacy within nonprofits, they use their own identities and experiences to guide people from nontraditional backgrounds in the academic and professional realms.

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