Career Clusters Stories + Advice

First-Gen in Business—An Alum’s Story

As part of Boston College’s celebration of our first-generation community during the month of November, Fabiola Margarita De Armas ’16 shares her journey and provides insight into her day-to-day life and keys to success within the workplace, particularly within the field of business.

Fabiola majored in political science and philosophy at Boston College and she is currently and International Tax Associate at Grant Thorton.

Please provide a high-level overview of major responsibilities of your work in your industry/company.

I am a recent hire at Grant Thornton in their International Tax Group. As a tax attorney, my duties gravitate towards writing memos for the clients regarding proposed structure changes or mergers. I also do some compliance work and fill out international tax return forms. 

What was your journey like to get to your current position?

When I was in high school, I aspired to be a politician. I always paid very close attention to Miami and Florida related elections. For that reason, I majored in political science at Boston College but after a few classes, I realized that I did not enjoy the matter as much. Boston College really stressed about finding a job that fulfills you and gives your life meaning. Therefore, I took an array of classes to try to find my niche. 

Sophomore year in PULSE class, I discovered that I really enjoyed philosophy and answering the “whys” of life. The “whys” and self-reflection helped me shift my political science focus towards political theory. Then after political theory classes and the logical breakdown of ideas coupled with internships with state judges back home, I decided that I wanted to go to law school. 

As a first-generation student, time was of the essence. I did not have the luxury to take a year off and travel or discover myself. I had to strive forward and accomplish the goals I had set for myself and for my parents, who had made several sacrifices to get me where I am today. 

During my cursory law school search, I decided that I wanted to attend a Jesuit law school in a big city. Therefore, Loyola University Chicago seemed like a good choice. I entered Loyola with a public interest mindset. I was convinced that I was going to be an Assistant State’s Attorney and work for the government. After a couple of internships and externships, I realized that litigation did not fulfil me. Like my time at BC, I decided to take an array of classes and see if anything excited me. 

My second year of law school, I fell in love with tax law after taking Federal Income Tax. I enjoyed studying, learning, and struggling with that material. Moving forward, I did research and noticed that most tax attorneys also had a Master of Laws in Taxation. After another round of cursory research, I saw that Northwestern Pritzker School of Law offered a joint-degree for non-Northwestern students to participate in the program at the Juris Doctor level. I heavily advocated for myself at Loyola and ultimately they let me do the joint-degree program at both schools. 

My third of law school, I completed 35 credits, which is a lot even at the law school level. However, the sacrifices and late nights were worth it because I managed to squeeze four years into three. I had a job lined up before graduation, took and passed the bar, and now I am practicing as a tax attorney. 

What strengths or characteristics relating to being a first-generation college student do you see as valuable in or transferable to the workplace?

I advocate for myself and go after any opportunity I am interested in, even if it is a long-shot. My parents always pushed me to be the best version of myself, to treat everyone with kindness, and when I stumble, to pick myself up and keep moving forward. 

I try to learn from every experience and push forward. Mainly, I ask questions. Since 90% of the time, I am not sure what I am doing or how to get where I want to go, I ask the questions and create opportunities for myself. 

I have faced rejection, but that is part of life and moving forward. At the same time, I have had the best support system telling me that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to do. In law school, I had a rough time, but I survived and now mentor first year students so that they too can feel empowered. 

When is recruitment and hiring most concentrated in your industry (e.g., early  fall, spring, ongoing/year round)?

At the Tax LLM (Master of Laws in Taxation) level recruitment for tax attorneys is a whole year ordeal. Some big law firms and accounting firms recruited in the fall semester but others in the spring. I applied to everything and cast a wide net. 

In law school, recruitment depends on what type of job you want. For big law, most students get interviewed for a summer associate position at the beginning of their second year of law school, work their summer associate the summer between their second and third year and hopefully will receive an offer to work for them full-time post-graduation. 

For non-big law, networking is important to form connections and see what positions are available. The law school an online platform that is constantly updated to reflect open positions for jobs.

What are 1-2 top action items someone entering their first internship or entry-level job should seek to find out or accomplish right away?

  1. I would ask questions and get to know your supervisors. I cannot stress how important it is to ask questions. When I am stuck or have no idea where to begin something, I ask questions. In my opinion, it is better to ask and get guidance on something than try to figure it out on your own and then have to re-do everything. Ask questions is not a sign of weakness, but shows that you are willing to learn and do things correctly.
  2. Be open-minded. I try to see what skill I can pick up from any given assignment or task. There is always something I can learn and then apply that skill to future endeavors.

What additional advice would you offer to first-generation student candidates in particular regarding their internship or job search process, to have a positive experience in the workplace? 

  1. Ask questions and send emails. Make those connections and show your interest. Networking is not fun, but you learn so much from those forced interactions. Figure out your social strengths and weaknesses and then challenge yourself. Be your own hype person and keep practicing those networking skills. 
  2. Find a strong support system. It is easy to become discouraged from rejections and missed opportunities. However, with a strong support system cheering you on, you will feel more confident about the process. Every time I felt like a failure, my parents would talk me out of my hole and let me know that everything was going to be okay. I just had to keep applying myself, reaching out, and creating opportunities for myself. 

Enjoyed this article? Want to learn more about various business fields and hear the stories of professional alums on how to successfully navigate post-graduate life in the workplace? Don’t forget to join the upcoming First Geners in Business: Lunch & Learn chats Monday, November 11, 5:30-6:30 p.m. and Wednesday, November 13, 12:00-1:00 p.m. in Maloney 414. Pizza will be provided, and dress is casual. Feel free to register here for Monday, and here for Wednesday You’re welcome to attend either or both–each session will feature a different BC alum!

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