Practical Strategy for Working with Clients

Vladimir BessonovVladimir Bessonov with Partners in Careers, Vancouver, WA uses a flexible and effective strategy to help clients learn vocabulary and important work readiness concepts.

He starts with a list of 50 words describing attitudes and characteristics valued by employers.

Vladimir used the example of AMBITION and explained that, due to cultural and historical factors in his country (Russia), to be ambitious is often considered risky and undesirable.  Talking with clients from that culture about how it is seen in the US can create space to talk about career paths and begin to help clients develop long term career plans if they’ve never had a chance to think about that before.

You could also choose a few characteristics – like TIMELY, HELPFUL and HARD WORKING – to help clients describe why they would be the best candidate for the job – a common inteview question.

Vladimir says he also assigns clients with higher levels of English the task of finding definitions for each of the words on the list.  Follow-up on homework assignments is often a great way to evaluate client commitment to their own job search success.

You can download Vladimir’s vocabulary list to use with your clients here.  Spassiba bolshoi, Vladimir.

(Look for a series of posts over the next couple of weeks sharing highlights and key takeaways from Higher’s March 3-4 Employment Workshop in Seattle, Washington.)

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Failed Drug Tests: It’s Gonna Happen

Homer-Simpson-wingnuts-dohHere is a repost about how to handle drug screens and what to do if clients can’t or don’t pass.  The motivation for reposting is a question raised in Seattle last week that we didn’t have time to fully address.

(Look for a series of posts over the next couple of weeks sharing highlights and key takeaways from Higher’s March 3-4 Employment Workshop in Seattle, Washington.) 


How many of you have felt the frustration of a failed drug screen that prevents a client from starting a job you worked hard to help them get?  It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, one client’s failure to pass a drug screen can put a dent in employer relationships.  It definitely has a negative impact on family self-sufficiency.

When a candidate fails a drug screen, most employers will not accept a re-application for six months.  For large corporations with multiple brands or retail outlets, the ban applies system-wide.  For clients with minimal English, one more barrier to employment is especially problematic.

Here are some tips for working with clients around drug screens.

Discuss US law related to illegal substances in Refugee Orientation. 

Laws and cultural norms may be more accepting of the use of some substances that are illegal in the US.  Clients will not know our laws and expectations unless they are told.

If you involve law enforcement spokespersons directly, hearing about the consequences of illegal drug use from someone in uniform can be especially effective.  It goes beyond discouraging client drug use to include issues of neighborhood safety, school security for their children and long term family success.

While a failed drug screen won’t have negative consequences for their long term immigration status, a drug related arrest could prevent them from becoming citizens.

Include an explanation of how a drug screen works in Job Readiness Class. 

Describing what happens after a job interview is a logical place to discuss drug screening since it is a common pre-employment step in the process.  If  asked to take a drug test, it is a good indication that a client will get a job offer if they pass.  Clients should be aware that drug tests are often free for job candidates and expensive for employers.

Explain that alcohol, tobacco or betel nut are not included. Substances that are illegal in the US – including marijuana – are. For our clients, pills, cocaine-based products and party drugs are largely unfamiliar and inaccessible. Marijuana or hashish is usually the substance that causes issues for our clients during their initial resettlement period.

Reinforce in One-on-One Client Meetings.

Describe what happens in a clinic that administers the tests to help clients who don’t speak much English navigate a pre-employment drug screen.  Be specific about container use, sanitation, form completion and identification, especially if they will go unaccompanied by resettlement agency staff.  Don’t forget to remind clients to bring any medications they take with them to the drug screening clinic.  Some prescription medications can cause the same results as detecting illegal drug use, which is called a “false positive”.

Consider preparing translated versions of a map, directions and procedures for large employers or commonly used clinics accessible via public transportation.  Employers will likely see this as offering them a valuable customer service.

Talk about the kinds of jobs that the client has expressed interest in that will NEVER be a possibility if they can’t pass a drug screen or if they have a drug-related arrest record.  Any kind of driving, security or medical job is likely to be included on the list.

Exactly How Direct Should You Be?

As an employment professional, you need to know up front if a client will not be able to pass a drug screen.  If your approach makes a client feel judged or guilty or fearful of being punished, they will likely not be honest and might not take you seriously.

Profiling and stereotyping clients is never a good thing.  But, if you suspect a client might present this barrier, be direct.  Explain the consequences.  Advise that they refrain from using illegal substances at least until they have a job.  Read more about the employer perspective, including their preference for candidates to take themselves out of the running before taking and failing a drug screen.

Debunk rumors about the effectiveness of home remedies or expensive products for sale in retail stores or online.  Common wisdom is that marijuana usage can be detected for at least a month after the last use.  The only way to be sure you can pass a drug screen is to avoid using illegal drugs.

What to do if a client can’t pass (or doesn’t pass)? 

Identify some employers who do not require pre-employment drug screens.  Many restaurants and some hotel chains are included in that list.  Small or locally-owned businesses are more likely to avoid unnecessary expense if safety and liability are not at issue.

Discuss counseling or other treatment options with case managers, who can reinforce the information clients are hearing from you and in classes.

Present affected clients with options for skills training or intensive ESL classes to keep them productive (and too busy to revert to previous bad habits).  It is likely to take longer to help find a job for client who has failed a drug screen or admitted to the need to wait until they can pass.

As an agency, discuss what your policy related to drug use is and how it will be communicated to all clients.  You could consider sanctions (especially related to financial benefits), a reduction in employment services or even requiring a self-funded drug screen before resuming active employment assistance.  Having a policy and procedures outlined and explained in advance can help you inform clients, preserve employer relationships and encourage long-term self-sufficiency.


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Interview Statistics Infographic

Infographic snipBuilding client interview skills is a big part of job readiness, no matter the combination of group and individual instruction your agency offers.

Infographics are a great resource for us because they rely more on visuals than language to convey complex topics.  That can be very helpful when working with our clients – or anyone, for that matter.

You can download the entire infographic you can see a part of in this post.  It does a great job of covering the basics of hygiene, ettiquete and common questions.  Many of the statistics will add emphasis and credibility to the concepts we all know are key success factors for our clients.

More Resources for Interview Skills

Higher’s October 2013  newsletter and several previous blog posts focused on a comprehensive overview of skills and techniques to help clients learn this fundamental US job market skill.

Later this year, we will debut two new eLearning trainings about interview skills:  one for Employment Specialists and one for clients.  Stay tuned for more about those in the coming months.



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E-Verify and Work Authorization Checks: Deepen Employer Relationships and Advocate for Clients


Images of valid EADs which you can also find through the links included in this article

Even though our clients are work authorized, they often get tangled in E-Verify details.  Lack of familiarity with this system and our client’s legal status on the part of employers can delay or even deny them jobs we work hard to help them secure.

Providing timely assistance is a much-appreciated service to employers.  The problem is most often a lack of knowledge.  In the less common case of intentional discrimination, advocating for client rights is an important and satisfying part of our jobs.

A recent email from the Department of Justice listserv offers so many great resources for clients, employers and you that we’re included it here.


Beginning February 27, 2014, the E-Verify webinar on Employee Rights will now be offered in Spanish! This webinar will help Spanish speakers understand and teach others about employee rights during the employment eligibility verification process.

USCIS and the DOJ Civil Rights Division, Office of Special Counsel (OSC) for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices are co-presenters of this free live webinar, which has been offered to the public in English since November 2012. USCIS and OSC subject matter experts will discuss what workers need to know about:

  • Employee rights in the Form I-9 and E-Verify processes
  • Employer responsibilities
  • How to resolve and understand the Tentative Nonconfirmation (TNC) Further Action Notice
  • Self Check, a tool for job seekers

Spanish speaking worker advocates, workers, and job seekers are encouraged to attend. Pre-registration is not required. Just add the date and time to your calendar. Click here to join one of the following dates:

  • Thursday,      February 27, 2014 at 11:30 AM EST.
  • Tuesday,      March 25, 2014 at 2:00 PM EST.

See our flyer for more information. Please share this announcement with everyone who may be interested! Click here to see the schedule of other E-Verify and Form I-9 webinars. More information and resources are available on and


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Resumes: An Important Tool of Our Trade

resume iStock_000017878752SmallIn our work with refugee employment clients, a resume is more than a document to submit in a job application.

  • Collecting information to build a resume is a basic tool for assessing client skills and experience.
  • Talking about a resume offers a framework for building client confidence and ability to understand and explain what they can offer employers.
  • Maintaining an effective resume is a basic transferable skill all job seekers need to master throughout their work life in the US.

Even if the client isn’t able to read their resume in English, they must be able to represent their skills in an interview and be consistent with how they portray those skills on paper.  For more highly skilled clients, crafting a US-standard resume can help convey the transferability of their unique experience in this job market.  The process can also help them develop more realistic expectations about their first job.

This article provides great how-to information about writing a resume profile.   In public speaking, the standard advice is to first “tell them what you’ll tell them”.  A resume speaks for you and a profile is the way to control the conversation.  For our clients especially, a strong profile is important to highlight the relevance and value of their unique experience in the US job market.

Since this isn’t my favorite topic, I would really appreciate some assistance.  Send in your tips and experience around resumes and I’ll add them to what I pull together about this critical part of our work.  Please, help me.


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Tax Fraud Scam Targeting Refugee Families

tax timeMany of our clients can get significant sums of money back by taking advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit and other programs for large families.  Read more in a previous Higher post.

Recently, we have heard of a scam you should try to help your clients avoid becoming caught up in.

Some families have been convinced to  “sell” the use of their children to list on other people’s taxes so that those scammers can claim tax credits for themselves.  It is far better financially for the families to claim their own children on their own tax returns.

More importantly, if this tax fraud is discovered, the refugee family will be barred for life from ever benefitting from child-related tax credits again.  Depending on the details, a criminal conviction could have serious, permanent consequences for their paths to citizenship, as well.

Please spread the word and add this to the information you provide to clients related to understanding and complying with laws related to taxation.


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Depression: A Barrier to Employment

Black Dog

A still shot featuring the black dog used as a metaphor for depression from the video

The lack of mental health services for our clients and the effects of trauma and torture are sadly a common a topic of our conversations.  The effects of stress and cultural adjustment that can trigger depression in anyone (not just refugees) is less common.

It’s very difficult to address mental health barriers.  They definitely have an impact on our ability to help clients find a job and begin to learn the skills they need for long term self-sufficiency and career success.

This video uses the metaphor of a big black dog to help people identify the symptoms of depression and understand that it is a common feeling with no stigma attached.  Because of it’s reliance on visuals and a simple but powerful image, it might be useful to use with clients.

It would be great to know if anyone tries it or has ideas about how it could be used.


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Job Development: Hit the Ground Running

fire-and-explosion-1418962-mThis week may still feel a little slow as people trickle in from the holidays.  You will likely have a backlog of clients who need to find jobs quickly.

It’s the perfect time to spend some time looking for openings now.  With a collection of fresh leads, you can energize clients with concrete opportunities after a couple of weeks when they likely lost motivation and confidence.

Where to look?

  1. If you have a database, spread sheet or other list of employer contacts, call through them to find out about current openings.
  2. Make some cold calls to restaurants, fast food franchises and retail stores along major refugee bus routes.
  3. Look at Craigslist and other job boards for likely prospects.
  4. Target, most major grocery stores and many hotel chains include specific openings on their websites.  See which locations are hiring now.
  5. If you work with volunteers, now is a great time to engage them in making these calls.  If you don’t already have a list for future campaigns, now is a great time to put one together.

Nationally, January and February are peek times to find work.  That’s not the case in every market.  But, everyone has new energy right after the holidays.  Employers are no exception.  There will likely be job opportunities that were  unfilled and unadvertised over the holidays.  Find them now and clients may have a good chance while other job seekers are still regaining their momentum.


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Tax Season is Here!

tax timeTax preparation can be stressful and confusing for many people and we have all heard stories of refugees not getting their full tax benefits.  Some may not know the system very well yet and others may rely on a local tax preparer who may take advantage of their situation.  We want to help employed refugees get the most

For Matching Grant clients, the guidelines include specific language about an important tax benefit – the Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC).  The EIC can be a really important tool in helping clients understand the advantages to early employment.  There are some great outreach tools available to  help you in these efforts on the Earned Income Credit website.

Outreach flyers are available in 21 languages.  There’s also an EIC Estimator to more quickly calculate the potential value of the Earned Income Credit for an individual or family.  Plus fact sheets, FAQs, printable materials and videos.  Everything you need to get the word out to your clients.  Use these tools to get the word out quickly!

Also, the Internal Revenue Service supports free tax preparation sites around the country through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.  Some local resettlement offices have become VITA sites themselves.  If you would like more information on how to do this, you can look here on the IRS website or contact us to get connected with a local resettlement office with VITA designation.

You can also check out this google map to find sites in your area.

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“When Will You Find Me a Job?”

angry woman

You can decide if the image best represents an angry client or frustrated employment professional.

How many times have you heard this question from clients? How can you respond in the moment and better prepare clients to avoid the expectation that a job will be found for them?

Your immediate response to this question should always be, “I am not going to find you a job and give it to you like a present. I will help you find a job now and learn the skills and resources you will need to achieve your own longer term goals.”

Your level of energy and activity on behalf of a client should match – never exceed – their own. Clients must take ownership of their own job search in order to master the skills they need.  Doing too much for them can create a sense of dependency and hurt their ability to adjust, integrate and thrive on their own.  This doesn’t mean that you should not spend time helping them.

Develop practical strategies to engage clients in their job search, help them develop work life skills and quantify and evaluate their level of commitment.

Here are some examples targeting clients with very low English language skills.  They, too, can play an active role in their own job search.

  • Explain help wanted signs and assign them the homework of looking for them in their neighborhoods and on bus rides. If they can bring you enough information, you can help them find out more about what they saw.
  • Help them understand the concept of customer service and why it’s important.  Assign them the homework of observing customer service in the course of their day.  You could suggest the bus driver, clerks at the grocery store or servers at a near-by fast food restaurant.
  • Explain that talking to people you already know is a common way to learn about work and job openings in the US.  Help them identify 3 people who speak their language to ask about their jobs and experience working in the US.  In a follow up meeting, find out how it went and coach them about pursuing those leads.

It would be great to hear strategies that have worked from others in the field.  Tell us yours by commenting on this post in our newly added comment feature.

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