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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Video Demonstrating an Effective Handshake

Helping hand shakes another in an agreementFirst impressions are so important for our clients, especially in job interviews.  It’s not difficult to demonstrate an effective handshake with a few words.  It can be harder than you think to explain the finer points to someone who wasn’t born into our culture.

Accompanied by a smile and “my name is” in their best English, a confident handshake puts clients well on their way to making a positive first impression.  And, getting it right builds client confidence, an important overall success factor in their job search.

This video demonstrates very specific techniques and goes into an interesting level of detail about the origin of the gesture.





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How to Get Online Applications Past the Bots

Online applications are an increasingly common barrier for access to a growing number of jobs.  Even when clients have the skills to accurately complete on-line applications and the qualifications to be competitive for the position, they seldom get any response.  This is frustrating, demotivating and can result in longer delays in finding a job.

One reason has to do with the way most online applications are processed by a ‘bot’ also called a robot or Applicant Tracking System. produced this great infographic that explains how bots work and how to increase the chances of making it past initial application screens.  Although the infographic focuses on resumes, the use of key words is also applicable to online applications.  Read the entire original post here.

Consider using this infographic as a handout for clients with the appropriate English and computer skills.


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Interview: The Employer Perspective on Interviewing

Harry photoRecently, Higher interviewed Harry Brigham, former owner of three Subway restaurants in Baltimore, Maryland.  We are including this conversation here to provide both employment staff and job seekers with insights and tips from perhaps the most important perspective in the interview process – the decision-maker!

Higher:  Before we start into the hard questions, can you tell our readers a little bit about your background to help put your advice into context?

Harry: I grew up in Boston, Massachusetts where I attended Tuft’s University.  After graduation, I was commissioned a Naval Officer and served as a Lieutenant on a ship out of Charleston, SC for four years.  I then received my Masters in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Currently, I am an entrepreneur, venture capitalist and operations consultant who recently owned three high-volume subway restaurants for approximately seven years.  These stores, located in Baltimore City, operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with an average of 15 -18 full and part time employees per location.  Through several different initiatives including the introduction of refugees into the employee team, the restaurants enjoyed on average a 40-50% increase in sales over my period of ownership.  I hired roughly 70 refugees over that period.

Higher:  What first motivated you to begin hiring refugees and what happened to turn you into such a strong supporter of refugee workplace integration?

Harry:  I was having great difficulty in sourcing quality staff.  The restaurants were experiencing high turnover, poor attendance reliability, lack of commitment to the workplace, poor customer service, dishonesty and workplace theft, on-site drama manifesting in workplace conflict between employees, and drama in employee home life that affected their work performance and attendance. 

As a result, the stores were under-performing, a source of many customer complaints and exhausting to own and manage.  Good employees found the workplace to be stressful and inequitable and would leave.  Due to the high employee turnover, we found ourselves in a mode of scrambling to find individuals to fill positions.

One day, I was voicing these concerns to a parent of one of my children’s classmates and he suggested I contact the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) office in Baltimore and explore hiring refugees. 

At that point, everything started to change…

Higher:  Could you tell us a bit of history about how your hiring practices and philosophy changed over time?

Harry:  By introducing refugees to the workforce, the store turnover was dramatically reduced.  Therefore, we had the luxury of more time to fill openings.

We continued to receive applications at the stores from walk in candidates and I would also contact LIRS or IRC employment advocates when I had an opening.   I would strive to maintain a 50/50 mix of refugee and non-refugee staff.  It was still helpful to have non-refugee staff in the workforce who could better read the nuances of a customer interaction if there was a complaint or if a customer was trying to take advantage of the refugee.

Higher:  How did you use candidate interviews to help you decide whom to hire?

Harry:  As I developed a relationship with the local refugee employment advocates, they grew to understand the requirements of the positions within the store.  Therefore, they were able to identify candidates that could be the best fit with the opportunity and escort that individual to an interview with me.  Within the interview itself, I looked for the following:

English skills at a sufficient level to be able to fill the job description of the opening – This is a critical evaluation of the employment advocate.  Employers have limited time and to bring an unqualified candidate to an interview erodes trust.

Eye contact and willingness to attempt an active discussion – I recognize that this can be terrifying for someone depending on where they come from but conversation has to occur for the interviewer to know whom they are considering to hire.

Willingness to talk about their migration journey – This is about what the refugee used to do in their home country, when they came to the US, who in their family came with them, how long have they been here, where do they live, etc.  Refugees need to practice this story in English and hopefully have an opportunity to tell it in the interview in order to turn the perception from an anonymous foreign person that needs a job to a new American who is assimilating and ready for the next step of employment.

Attitude and Energy – The ability to go past ‘I need a job’ and convey to the interviewer “Why I would be a great employee.”   For example, “In my home country, I did X and Y for work and it required X and Y skills or work habits and those are characteristics that I can bring to your workplace.”

Employers are looking for productive employees that will move quickly to accomplish tasks.  Since the refugee does not have work history in the US nor job references, this energy is critical.

Contact information – Phone number and email address that are accessed regularly by the refugee.  The employer does not want to have to contact the employment advocate to circle back to a candidate following an interview. The employer does not want to hear that the client is in the process of getting a phone

Higher:  How can refugees with little English language skills best show their value in an interview?

Harry:  Refugees with limited English skills need to do the following:

  1. Try as hard as possible to use the English they do know and to have a two-way conversation with the interviewer.
  2. It is OK to say ‘I don’t understand, can you say that again and speak more slowly?’  That is better than simply smiling and nodding and not understanding.  It is unsettling for the interviewer when he or she senses the employee simply has no idea what is being asked and that does not bode well for workplace training programs.  Two people smiling at one another in silent interview, is not a successful interview.

Also, it’s important for the employment advocate bring a translator to the job interview when necessary to facilitate the conversation and ensure the candidate understands expectations.  The job itself (warehousing for example) may not require significant English skills, however, the interview itself must be a productive conversation and a translator can make the difference while allowing all participants to feel that their points were made. 

Higher:  You’re a valuable resource for the network of employment professionals who are passionate about helping refugees but often struggle to convey that passion AND sell employers on considering refugees for job openings.  What advice can you give about crafting an effective pitch to prospective employers?

Harry:  Here’s my “top ten” list:

  1. Be professionally dressed whenever coming in to meet with the employer.
  2. Research the company ahead of time.
  3. Have an outstanding piece of collateral to hand to employers that anticipates and addresses the 10 to 15 questions any employer is likely to ask.
  4. Emphasize that the refugees are legal immigrants to the US that have been interviewed and approved by our US State Department.  They will have a social security number and pay taxes.  When illegal immigration is such a sensitive issue in the US, it is an exciting opportunity for an employer to hire legally compliant refugees.
  5. Convey hiring refugees is a very American thing to do.  The United States is a melting pot of cultures from around the work.  Other than Native American, none of us are originally from here.  It always has been a characteristic that makes our country so diverse and strong.
  6. Express that refugees have no roots in this country and they want to be part of something and to be a loyal team member.  Let that ‘something’ be your workplace.
  7. Highlight the real tax savings available and that the employment advocate can educate the employer about those savings.
  8. Be specific about how you will help the employee have a successful onboarding experience.  Talk about your accessibility for the employer – that you have your phone with you 24/7 and will take a call at anytime to help address any situation that may come up.
  9. Speak about workplace diversity.  Refugees are not threatening to existing employees; instead they are an interesting new element.
  10. Emphasize the overall strengths that most refugees share by nature of their migration experience.  That is a hard thing to do and a company can only benefit from the addition of that resilience and determination.

Higher: Thank you for your thoughts, Harry.  I think front-line refugee employment staff will really appreciate your honesty and suggestions!

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5 Creative Ways to Help Clients Master Job Interview Skills

It’s easy to get bored with a topic you repeat so many times, like teaching newly arriving refugees about interview skills for the U.S. workplace.  However, it is an important topic for every client and there’s always room to improve (this applies to everyone, not just refugees).  Clients get bored with it too.  Here are some ideas you can consider to keep it fresh.

  1. Engage Volunteers:  You might not always be able to spend the time that’s needed on individual interview practice with each client.  Interview practice is a fun and stand-alone task that is perfect for volunteers.
    1. Add Quick Practice Into Job Readiness Class:  As basic interview concepts are being presented, include a few rounds of individual practice.  Have everyone stand up one by one, shake hands with you and introduce themselves.  You can take the same approach to answering and asking common interview questions.  For example, begin every client meeting with a handshake and greeting.
    2. Deepen Relationships with Key Employers:  Offer employer contacts the chance to get more involved.  Schedule a convenient time for employers and clients to conduct a few mock interviews.  Employers often express how much they enjoy these kinds of experiences.  And engaging them more will strengthen the relationship for future hires. Clients will benefit, too!
    3. Assign “Homework” for the Next Scheduled Appointment:  Sometimes clients need more time to think of answers or feel ready to express their thoughts in English.  Give them specific interview questions and encourage them to practice their answers before the next appointment.  This also helps encourage individual responsibility for their own successful job search.
    4. Rethink On-line Screening Questionnaires:  Wait a second – don’t tune out.  Everyone hates them, but screening questionnaires (like at Walmart and Office Depot) can be good sources of questions you can use in interview practice. In fact, they are really the same as an on-line job interview and are becoming increasingly common in today’s job market.   If a client aspires to a customer service job and can’t navigate an online screening questionnaire, they might not be ready for that kind of job.
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