First-generation college students navigate a particularly difficult set of experiences and expectations when it comes to college—and jobs. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), they make up one-third of the student body in the U.S., yet they often aren’t provided access to the experiences and opportunities to build the social capital needed to complete their college education—much less leverage their degree for their career. This, unfortunately, is one of the reasons why 33 percent of first-generation students leave college before finishing their degrees, per NCES.
The Opportunity Network is helping to change that. Founded in 2003, the New York-based non-profit provides first-generation and underserved students with the resources, skills, and experiences needed for long-term personal and professional success. We spoke with Ray Reyes, the Managing Director of Programs, to learn what organizations can do better to attract—and hire—qualified diverse early-career candidates.
“Organizations need to foster welcoming environments during networking events. How your company does this changes depending on your industry. If you’re in finance, the event itself will maybe be more structured—with formal business attire and a certain type of etiquette expected. Tech start-ups may promote a casual environment, where people are encouraged to dress and act in a more relaxed way. But, regardless of the sector or company, it’s the organization’s responsibility to make sure that their expectations are clearly communicated to potential applicants, and that attendees feel comfortable interacting with employees.
One way of helping to accomplish that is to have a fully represented staff at the event. Right now we’re in a very tight labor market—with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting a 3.5 percent unemployment rate in September—where early-career candidates have an abundance of job options. Companies, therefore, need to put their best foot forward in these spaces where employees are looking to see if they feel welcomed and supported. Networking is an opportune time to show potential applicants that your organization values diversity and inclusion.”
“I believe there needs to be more transparency if companies truly want to be inclusive and hire more diverse talent. We know that human capital teams are looking for certain hard and soft skills in candidates, in line with what they recognize in their top performers–whether it’s advanced knowledge in Excel or interpersonal communication.
If this is the case, there’s no reason why both organizations and colleges can’t provide more holistic support to students on how to prepare for a successful career in a field. Companies can list both the hard and soft skills their positions need—while also offering an inventory of college classes and assignments that develop these competencies. If an applicant needs strong writing skills to craft clear company-wide emails for the job, then suggest they take a technical writing or business communication to help develop and apply that skill.
The jobs your organization needs to fill also may require incorporating feedback and working well with colleagues. Being transparent about the value of this allows students to be more measured and deliberate when they’re completing college assignments. The next time they have a group project, they’ll be cognizant of how they’re interacting with their classmates to hone this skill.”
If your team wants to attract—and hire—top diverse talent, you need more transparency throughout the recruiting process. You’ll find that communicating expectations creates a level playing field that allows more first-generation and underserved qualified candidates to win roles at your company.