Refugees and Colleagues in the News

Snow Pic

Photo Credit: Laura Yuen

Read a collection of recent news highlighting the diversity of our client populations, the barriers we help them overcome and the ways they lead those efforts themselves.

  • Unfounded fear of Ebola results in a lost home health care job for one long term African immigrant.  Click here.
  • International Institute of Minnesota colleagues teach Burmese Karen about snow in their cultural orientation class.  Click here.
  • Two Afghan SIV’s complete long journey to the US with advocacy from their US military colleagues.  Click here.
  • Bhutanese Nepali resettlement colleague with Lutheran Social Services Portland advocates for refugee mental health needs.  Click here. 

I’m bored with Friday Features and out of ideas for books, movies, music or other refugee-related entertainment to highlight.  Going forward, Friday Features will be occasional when the opportunity presents itself.  Any suggestions or ideas for other types of Friday posts?  Let me know. 


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Your Top 3 Recommendations for Resume Preparation

resumeRecently, I admitted to dreading and avoiding the topic of resumes and asked for help – advice and suggestions from you.  Thanks for the help.

Here are the top three strategies you think work best.  Stay tuned for more posts about resumes based on your input.

1.  Utilize Volunteers

Every client’s experience is different.  The work of developing a resume requires the same process and basic level of detail.  That makes it easier for you to provide clear guidelines so a volunteer can contribute while developing expertise through practice.  lHere’s what Higher Peer Advisors Network member Stephen Johnson says,

Resume preparation is engaging for both sides (volunteer often request this).  It allows the refugee to tell their story on their own terms (staff often don’t have time to sit and listen).  It also makes for a variation in general style and tone (if I make them all, they end up looking the same).

2.  Access Workforce Center Resources

They have different names and different resources, but they offer resources you can tap into, especially for clients with a working level of English and/or computer skill.   Many centers have computer access labs, classes, formats and tip sheets that can help clients and you.  Here’s what Erin Vorhees with Catholic Charities Diocese of Arlington recommends.

 If my client doesn’t even have a resume yet, I use our Skillsource Centers.  They have a lot of resume writing classes, so I try to send my clients to a class. (Click here to check out how it looks in Virginia.) 

3.  See if an Online Tool is Helpful

There are tons of online tools designed to help you tailor job descriptions, maximize your use of keywords and generate formatted resumes.  Some find them more burdensome than helpful.  It’s an individual preference.  Here’s my description of how to use a tool that I’ve witnessed getting very strong results.

A former colleague of mine made the best resumes ever.  He used the Department of Labor Wage and Hours Division standardized job descriptions and selected the bullet points that described what clients actually did in U.S. workplace language.  Click here for the website.  You have to spend a bit of time learning how it’s organized and searching for the right job title.



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A Colleague in the News in Dallas

Mohammed Farah

Photo Credit: Nathan Hunsinger, Dallas Morning News

Click here to read how our colleague Mohammed Farah, Program Manager at Catholic Charities, Dallas helps clients adjust expectations and prepare to join the U.S. workforce.  And learn about his experience arriving as a refugee from Somalia almost 15 years ago.

76% of attendees at our recent Employment Workshop are from a refugee background or work with former refugee team members.  Higher believes that this figure is typical of our entire network.  We all know the value of this perspective in our work to help our clients succeed.


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Cool Games in Higher’s U.S. Job Cycle eLearning Course

U.S. Job Cycle Card Sort Snip

Screen shot of the Card Sort game in the eLearning course. We give you everything you need to download to use it later, too!

Our new U.S. Job Cycle  eLearning course demonstrates how to conduct a field-tested job readiness session.  It includes two flexible, interactive games – a card sort game and word search puzzle.

Check ’em out online in the eLearning course and download printable versions with instructions and everything you need to use them.

What?  Don’t have your free username and password for Higher’s Online Learning Institute, yet?  Click here to learn more and sign up.

Insider tip:  Sign up before December 17 and you could be eligible to enter a drawing to win a prize you’ll really want.

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Survivors of Trafficking and Employment Services


From National Human Trafficking Resource Center

Survivors of trafficking present unique barriers to employment.

Here are tips, resources and examples to help you provide more effective – and less stressful – employment services to survivors of trafficking.

Thanks to Higher Peer Advisor David Roth, Job Development with Lutheran Services Carolinas (LSC) and Maja Hasic, Program Director of Tapestri for contributing to this post and starting the discussion on which it is based.

1.  Employers don’t need to know.  You do. 

Employers are not allowed to ask – nor do they need to know – about the trafficking incident.  You DO need to know enough details to be sure that a placement and your job readiness activities do not cause harm.  Know your agency confidentiality policies and collaborate closely with case managers.

For example, placing a client who was forced into domestic servitude in a housekeeping or nanny job could damage the client’s recovery and the employer relationship.

2.  Be sure trafficking survivors  know their rights and understand your processes up front. 

The majority of survivors of trafficking experience some form of forced labor situation. Contracts (paperwork), mis-information and intimidation are very common tactics to entrap and keep trafficked persons in the situation.

Think about how you could ease into required paperwork with more thorough introductions and explanations.  Firing off questions and writing down answers can look very similar to entrapment tactics many survivors of trafficking experience.

Trafficked clients, especially, should be briefed about U.S. employment laws and the fact that they can choose to leave their job if they are unsatisfied with the treatment they receive.

3.  Know where to learn more and find resources. 
  • U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report includes a very thorough introductory section vailable in Arabic,Spanish and French:  Click here.
  • ORR & Human Trafficking is a gateway page to great information and resources, including the next two listed below: Click here
  • National Human Trafficking Resource Center provides callers with crisis intervention, tip reporting, comprehensive services, anti-trafficking resources and referrals:  Click here.
  • Rescue & Restore Victims of Human Trafficking Campaign offers free awareness materials in a number of languages: Click here. 
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Are “Small Site” Strategies Different?

smalltownAll of the same strategies and best practices apply, no matter the size of your community or the number of clients you resettle each year.  The difference is in the details.

While preparing for a workshop recently, I worried that my experience in a larger site (Austin, TX) wouldn’t be relevant. I wanted to be sure that trends and proven approaches Higher sees across the national network were relevant for small sites, too. They absolutely are. In fact, I learned a ton of great ideas and strategies that everyone can use.

5 Things to Learn from Small Resettlement Sites

1.  Appreciate the benefits of more personalized service.   With small client numbers, you often have the luxury of spending more one-on-one time with clients. That allows for a strong and deep level of trust and customized placement and case management.

2. Reputation and word of mouth is even more important.  In smaller communities, news and speculation about misssteps AND successes travels fast.  Look for opportunities to reach out to community groups like Rotary Clubs or Chambers of Commerce.

3.  Build employer relationships without a client placement.  It’s more likely that you will not have a client with the skill set to fill every placement opportunity you identify.  Create meaningful ways for employers to interact with clients and understand what you do so you have a strong connection when you DO have a great candidate down the road.  Mock interviews and an open house featuring city council members both worked well for IRC Wichita, KS.

4.  Keeping in touch regularly is even more important.  Media mentions, well-timed drop-in visits or quick phone calls keep the opportunities you offer employers fresh in their mind.

5.  Invest in volunteer recruitment and relationships.  Small resettlment numbers means smaller staff.  Volunteers make it possible to do more AND increase community ties and visibility at the same time.

\What exactly does “Small Site” mean in this post?

I focused on small cities rather than rural areas and programs that served less than 100 clients per year or had recently grown beyond that number.

Thanks to several people who talked to me about their strategies and experiences.   Special thanks to Shannon Branson, Employment Specialist with IRC in Wichita, KS, who spent an hour sharing her examples via skype at Higher’s recent 2 day training with Louisiana resettlement agencies.





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Employment Plans

Employment Plan GraphicThere’s alot to say about Employment Plans.  They’re an essential of our work.

When done well, they

  • put clients at the center of making and executing their own job search strategies
  • help adjust expectations about a starter job by placing it in the context of a realistic career path
  • guide your work with clients, and
  • document a core service that most of us are required to provide by donors or our agencies.

The reality is that even the best plan is likely to change over time.  Refugees learn about options and opportunities they never even knew about.  Maybe they never had the time to dream about long term goals.  Read a previous blog post for tips on how to help refugees begin to identify their long term career goals.

Check out Higher’s Employability Assessment eLearning training (click here to get your free username and password) and learn how one Employment Specialist uses the metaphor of a house to help clients develop realistic expectations and their own employment plan.

Have an effective form, strategy or experience developing employment plans?  Share it with the network via Higher at 

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Why Should I Hire You?

Interview skills at

Photo credit: Alamy and

Everyone dreads hearing an employer ask “Why should I hire you?” in a job interview.  It’s a very common question that our clients need help to anticipate,  understand and answer.

Here are highlights of good advice from a recent article in, which includes additional tips and explanations.

  • Refer to the Job Description.  Emphasize the same points.  Consider using the exact words when it sounds natural.
  • Focus on what you can do for the employer, not what they can do for you.
  • Never directly compare yourself to another person.  It can make you seem competitive rather than a strong team player.
  • Evidence your answer.  Give examples from your past experience.  If you can cite numbers or acknowledgement from your employer, even better.

Higher’s new elearning training, How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions will help clients answer this important question, as well.  Read more here and think about trying this great new training with your highly skilled clients.





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Thinking about Privilege

Check your privilege at

Higher Peer Advisor Nadine Pedusseau sent out this interactive exercise to explore privilege and how it affects your life.  I knew her take on how it relates to our clients would be spot on.  Here’s how she sees it:

The privilege some refugees were enjoying in their own country doesn’t apply here.  (For example, high educational achievement or social class status.)  It is an additional culture shock for many to discover that their expectations of equality in the U.S. don’t always match the reality.

Lots to think about here.  Enough said.

Note:  The interactive site in the original reference has disappeared.  Sorry.  I changed the link to the next best thing.  Apologies.  (11/05/14)


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3 Ways to Access Mainstream Workforce Resources

lotteryWe all dream about tapping into the rich resources that must exist through our national workforce support system, right? Training. Funding. Childcare subsidies. Computer labs. Job banks.

It’s like winning the lottery. But, you can’t win if you don’t play.

Here are three opportunities to stop missing out on resources for our clients and colleagues who might provide more peer support for us.

1.  Save the Date for a Higher webinar introducing the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) on Tuesday, 12/16 from 12:00 – 1:30 PM EST.

WIOA, the first new workforce legislation in almost 15 years, will create new opportunities to forge partnerships and access resources. Rules and regulations make the new legislation operational are still being developed.

The National Association of Workforce Development Professionals (NAWDP) will headline our next webinar with an overview of the new legislation and practical ways to begin to develop stronger relationships with your local workforce board and One Stop Job Centers.

Download a U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration (ETA) fact sheet if you can’t wait until December to learn more about WIOA.

2.  Start from a solid framework for collaboration thanks to ORR.

In 2012, ORR and ETA began collaborating on issues pertaining to refugee employment opportunities. Click here to read a State Letter highlighting some of the results of this collaboration. Download a fact sheet about the workforce system that has already been developed to provide us with a basic understanding of the system.  New legislation will change some details, but it’s still a good backgrounder.

3.  Learn from three peer programs that offer well-established models for collaboration.

Download a PDF of an August 2014 ORR report highlighting model collaborations between workforce investment and refugee stakeholders in St. Louis, MO, the state of Utah and Sacramento County, CA.   


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