How To Be Successful as a First-Gen College Graduate



Casey and I serve together on the Advisory Council through the Greenville Chamber Young Professionals group. We have faced many obstacles this year and I can’t tell you how great it has been to have a leader like Casey to work with. Today, she’s sharing her personal story about being a first-generation college graduate in addition to being the first person in her family to work a “white-collar” job. Whether her story relates to you or not, it is certainly worth a read.


I’m a first-generation college graduate from a small southern town and the first in my family to work a “white-collar” job. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how I ended up in accounting. I never knew any accountants growing up, I wasn’t a huge fan of math class, and I vividly remember thinking how boring accounting sounded during the open house at my high school’s career center. Surprisingly, I had a change of heart after taking my first accounting class as a business major at Lander University and switched majors shortly thereafter.


There are many potential career paths in accounting, but I knew early on that I wanted to go into public accounting - more specifically auditing. I thoroughly enjoyed my intermediate accounting classes (not a phrase you hear often) and I wanted a job that would let me do more of that. I also liked the idea of working with a variety of clients across many different industries.


Although I got my undergraduate degree from a small, out-of-state state school, I was lucky enough to secure a graduate assistantship at the University of Georgia. I went on to earn a Masters in Accountancy, pass the CPA exam and become a staff auditor at Cherry Bekaert LLP in Greenville, South Carolina.


Most people, my younger self included, imagine accounting as a job that has you busy on a computer all day and relies heavily on technical skills with little social interaction required. While this is true on certain days, I quickly learned how important communication, teamwork, and customer service are in the field of public accounting. I’m an introvert by nature, so it took some practice, but I realized these skills would be the key to advancing in my career and made it a point to develop them. When I became an audit manager, I spent the better half of my days interacting with clients, prospects, and members of my team and those non-technical skills I committed to developing were vital to my success in that role.


Another skill I never expected to need in an accounting career was sales, although it makes sense when you think about it. There is no technical accounting work to be done if no one is out there winning new clients. I knew that I needed to learn how to network in order to make connections in the future. I didn't grow up in Greenville and I didn’t have any family or friends in the area, so I had to start from scratch when building my clientele. Our office manager steered me toward a local young professionals group during my first day with the firm and thankfully I took her advice. Through participation with that group, I was able to become more comfortable networking and selling my personal brand. This not only helped me in my role as an auditor, but was incredibly valuable when I chose to transition out of public accounting.


After seven years in public accounting, I recently left the industry to become the Assistant Controller at Furman University. Because auditing let me see a variety of industries, I discovered a passion for higher education and non-profit accounting that I would not have otherwise discovered. The interview process reminded me of how valuable my time in public accounting was. The skills mentioned above all contributed to my being offered this new role and I know those skills are going to serve me well for years to come.


Even if you are not an accountant, the lessons I learned during my time in public accounting can still apply to you.

1) Pursue opportunities that provide a variety of experiences. You never know which one might point you toward your next big career move.

2) Identify what skills are needed to excel in your field early on and be intentional about developing them.

3) Seek out opportunities outside of work that allow you to connect with others outside of your industry as well as develop and practice your soft skills.


YoPro Know's Takeaways:

- Keep an open mind when choosing your major. You never know what course may take you by surprise.

- Develop your communication, teamwork and customer service skills, they are important soft skills to have regardless of your career field.

- If you are starting a job in a new city, get involved in young professional groups in the area. It is a great way to learn about your new home and build a network.


Connect with the author here: Casey Minor


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