According to research, first-generation college graduates consistently outscore their peers in educational commitment, self-efficacy, and academic and campus engagement. These traits, and the resiliency they require, evolve into highly marketable skills and attitudes as first-generation graduates enter the workforce. The experience of earning a college degree amid often significant obstacles gives them an inspiring story to tell potential employers.
Diversity mandates are common at most U.S. companies – all Fortune 100 organizations have them – but an employment gap persists for first-generation graduates. It’s clear that companies should be paying more attention to these graduates and extending opportunities for them to succeed.
Here, two Bloomberg employees, both first-generation graduates in the US, share their thoughts and experiences.
Tenacity and curiosity
For Marianela Jaca, a Hedge Fund Account Manager at Bloomberg and first-generation college graduate, there are a few key qualities that set this group apart and characterize the value they have to an organization. “While everyone who graduates from college faces different obstacles along the way, first-generation graduates really have to figure everything out in the workplace,” she says. “This is where so many first-generation graduates’ tenacity, curiosity, and drive really come into play.”
Determination is key to her own success, as well as a direct result of challenges she faced while working to earn a college degree. “For me, I didn’t come from a background where I saw a lot of role models in the kinds of jobs that are available to college graduates. There was a lot of diligence required not only to understand the different roles I was considering, but also what it took to thrive within a corporate culture,” she explains. “I also think curiosity and creativity are key in helping us uncover different types of opportunities.”
The skills she’s developed over time have proved useful throughout her career, especially when solving problems at work. “You become so self-sufficient and resourceful when you have to figure out a new situation or skill on your own,” she says. “It can be as simple as embracing a new way of asking a question at a time when I didn’t have an answer or know where to turn. There have been times when I knew where I needed to go, but wasn’t sure of how to get there, and my resourcefulness absolutely helped me succeed.”
For managers and those tasked with hiring and building teams, understanding the full picture of a candidate’s experience is key in looking to attract and retain talent. This is especially important with first-generation graduates, as a resume or GPA might not effectively encapsulate their abilities or experience.
Alejandro Perez, a Post-Trade Solutions Business Manager at Bloomberg, sees the value in taking the time to fully consider members of this group beyond typical criteria, especially since he’s a first-generation college graduate himself. “If you hear from someone who put themselves through college with a complex major by working multiple part-time jobs, it’s important to consider that, while this person may not have the highest grades, they were able to accomplish a lot. To me, that shows a level of work ethic and perseverance,” he says. “The GPA or the alma mater shouldn’t dictate how much faith you put in these candidates. It should be the way they drive themselves and how they communicate and tell their story.”
As a manager, Perez understands the importance of determination, hard work, and emotional intelligence on his team. While he can teach someone technical skills or the particulars of the Bloomberg Terminal, these other essential attributes are present, or they’re not. “The attitude that first-generation graduates come in with is a bit different. There is a drive that is very unique to these individuals who have put themselves through college. They also appreciate the value of an opportunity, so when you give them a job, they’re going to maximize the value and make the most of it,” he explains. “It’s also very important when I’m looking to hire someone that they are able to adapt to the company’s culture, so they can seamlessly integrate themselves and be successful in the organization willing to learn, listen, and work hard.”
At Bloomberg, we work to attract and retain diverse talent through both internal initiatives and external partnerships. In seeking to engage first-generation graduates, the company prioritizes inclusive recruitment. In addition to recruiting from a diverse group of schools, Bloomberg has no GPA requirements for open roles in the business, utilizes video interviews to screen more qualified candidates, and invests in early engagement programming and candidate skill development, in addition to working with target schools and sourcing talent from a network of nonprofits, including Prep for Prep, POSSE Foundation, and LEDA Scholars.
These efforts also include relationships with focused organizations like Project Basta, a group dedicated to bridging the employment gap for first-generation students by working with employers and the students themselves to create opportunity and build relationships.
“At Basta, the belief is that first-generation students have the raw talent and drive necessary to successfully launch careers,” says Sheila Sarem, Project Basta’s founder. “What they lack are the knowledge and networks necessary to know what jobs are out there and how to best prepare for them. Basta’s programs are designed to provide students with this social capital to ensure employers are taking note of these students, who otherwise may not have found their way into a company’s hiring pipeline.”
The tenacity and potential of first-generation graduates are clearly valuable in any business environment, making visibility for this group even more important. Through mindful partnerships and looking closely at our own hiring practices, Bloomberg is committed to giving first-generation graduates the exposure and opportunities required for success.