4 (Free) Productivity Tools for the Busy Job Developer

A guest post you won’t want to miss from Higher Peer Advisor Stephen Johnson

Our work is stressful. When every hour counts, saving a few minutes goes a long way. The number of productivity tools and applications (apps) out there is overwhelming.

How do we find the programs that actually support our work? Luckily, I’ve road-tested a few of them so you don’t have to. Here are my top four picks.

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 1.52.46 PM1. Google Voice 

You’re familiar with Google products (Docs, Slides, Calendar). But, have you heard of Google Voice?

With Voice you create a unique phone number for use on most mobile devices. This means you can have two phone numbers on the same phone. You can call or text from each separate number using the Google Voice app.

With this app, you no longer have to carry a separate work phone and still maintain some boundaries with clients and your personal life.

For job development, you can set it to see text and voice messages in your email to speed up your response time when you’re at your desk.

For anyone with an out-of-state area code, you can use a local number to cold call employers. Why not find 202-555-JOBS or the equivalent in your area?

Keep in mind that Voice app is free, but you’ll still pay for calls and data usage on your existing phone plan

2. SlyDial   Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 1.50.58 PM

How many times have you wanted to leave a voicemail for someone without actually having to talk to them? Here you are.

SlyDial is a phone-messaging service that sends you directly to voicemail . And, get this. You can send a recorded message to multiple numbers at one time. For me, this was so valuable for client reminders to attend a hiring event or job club.

3. Wunderlist  Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 1.49.39 PM

There are many task management tools out there. If you’re not using some type of system to keep track of your daily to-do list, you probably should be.

Wunderlist stands out for several reasons. The design and interface are simple, easy –to-use and stress-free. You can collaborate between co-workers to create a common to-do list, and access cloud-synced lists from a desktop, laptop, or mobile device.

The program integrates with email to quickly turn messages and attachments into manageable tasks. Supervisors can easily print task lists to delegate to a volunteer or intern.

4. Humin Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 1.54.51 PM

Ever wanted to track your contacts based on when or where you met them?

Humin organizes all of your contacts retroactively and remembers each addition intuitively. The strongest feature is the dynamic search function that lets you look up a contact based on when and where you first met.

Remember that employer you met at a Chamber of Commerce meeting last year but can’t remember his name? The program uses location service when you first save a contact and, context to anticipate the information you might like to remember down the road.

Humin is part of growing technology trend to develop more intuitive and contextual programs. The learning curve is a bit steeper than the other tools on the list. The more you use it, the more powerful it can be.

Editors note:  Technology moves fast.  Humin was  just acquired by Tinder.  Not sure what that means, but for now, their website is down.

stephen johnsonStephen Johnson just left his job as Early Employment Specialist at IRIS- Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services in New Haven, Connecticut. He has 7 years of experience working with refugee communities.  He’s helped our national network in many ways as a member of Higher’s Peer Advisors Network. Bon voyage, Stephen, and thanks from all of us.  

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Simple Strategies to Address Common Barriers, Part 4

digital literacy 1At a recent Maryland-wide workshop which focused on refugee workforce development, Higher had participants do a brainstorming activity, in which groups worked together to list common barriers refugees face to employment as well as possible solutions.

These types of activities inevitably generate a “wish list” of solutions which are great ideas but not always in our power to implement quickly (e.g. adding staff members, ESL at work sites, home-based self-employment for refugee women).

While there are certainly times to pursue those big ideas, perhaps the best thing about exercises like this is that they allow groups to identify simpler solutions that can be implemented immediately.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll share some of these insights from your Maryland peers, focusing on simple and practical strategies that are relatively easy to implement! So far, we’ve focused on tips for overcoming Limited English Proficiency (LEP) challengestips for overcoming transportation challenges and tips for overcoming childcare challenges. This week we’ll share a few tips on overcoming the barrier of Computer Access/Digital Literacy.

Tips for Overcoming Computer Access/Digital Literacy Challenges:

  1. Connect clients to local computer labs and/or digital literacy training opportunities. Suggested Resource: The Literacy Directory lists free resources to help adult students reach life goals in areas such as improving reading, math, and science skills, learning English, building job and job search skills, becoming a U.S. citizen, and finding adult education, child, family, and digital literacy programs.
  2. Help clients access low-cost computers. Suggested Resource: EveryoneON is a national nonprofit working to eliminate the digital divide by making high-speed, low-cost Internet service and computers, and free digital literacy courses accessible to all unconnected Americans. A true digital literacy initiative, they aim to leverage the democratizing power of the Internet to provide opportunity to all Americans – regardless of age, race, geography, income, or education level. Let’s help them do this!
  3. Educate clients about affordable internet options. Suggested Resource: ConnectHome is a public-private collaboration to narrow the digital divide for families with school-age children who live in HUD-assisted housing. ConnectHome is the next step in President Obama’s continued efforts to bring affordable broadband access, technical training, digital literacy programs, and electronic devices to all Americans.
  4. Utilize interns and/or volunteers to help clients improve their computer skills. Suggested Resource: DigitalLearn.org is a collection of self-directed tutorials for end-users to increase their digital literacy, and a community of practice for digital literacy trainers to share resources, tools and best practices.
  5. Encourage your clients to work with you on this challenge, asking them to network within their community to explore solutions.

Stay tuned for more tips from MD refugee employment programs and stakeholders. The final part in this series will address unrealistic client expectations.

Do you recommend any additional digital literacy resources? Feel free to participate in the conversation by leaving a comment below or sending us an email at information@higheradvantage.org.

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4 New Years Resolutions for Better Client Services

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 8.34.50 PMNow is a good time to get a bit more organized to start the new year.

Recent research shows that the state of your workspace has an impact on concentration and efficiency.

Here are four resolutions you should keep. (Never mind those other ones if you even bothered to make them.)


1.  Catch up on filing. (Not to mention case notes!)

2.  Move five things on your desk into a drawer. (Piles of scribbled sticky notes equal one thing.)

3.  Remove all outdated client resource flyers and materials from your cube wall. (Be a hero.  Do the same in client common areas.)

4.  Add something new to your refugee employment practice. (Think new community referral source or potential employer.)

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Free Resource: Online Paycheck Calculator

freeClick here to access a simple online tool from QuickBooks that you can use to make your life easier in all kinds of ways.  Use it to quickly determine net (or take-home) pay after taxes and other withholdings.

R&P, Matching Grant and other refugee cash support programs require a number of assessment, planning and client self-sufficiency documents that are important and not always easy to complete.

This tool can deliver net pay information quickly so you have more time to help clients understand their budgets.

(Since we had some problems with our blog feed last week, we’re reposting this since most of you missed it during our technical difficulties.  Apologies)



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Fight Burnout. Cultivate Innovation.

hamster wheelIt’s easy to work harder and not smarter in the field of refugee employment.

We are often distracted by the “tyranny of the urgent” – the constant influx of arrivals, employers and client “emergencies”. We rarely give ourselves the freedom to learn, imagine, or innovate.

I’m afraid – and I’m speaking from personal experience here – that we often play it safe and end up on the hamster wheel of the status quo. Burned out, stressed out and focused on producing just enough results to keep our jobs, we can lose sight of our clients and maybe our passion for this important work.

How can we fight this downward spiral?

Innovate Like a Tech Company

I’d like to suggest taking a cue from tech companies like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn. Dedicate some time each week for innovation and creativity. Why not take a few hours on a Friday afternoon – or in your next team meeting – to consider questions like these?

1.  How can we help clients develop career pathways that include early employment AND are in line with their long-term goals? What does this look like for clients with low levels of English or literacy? What about for highly skilled clients, single mothers or young adults who crave education but must work?

2.  How can we be more creative with social media? What makes sense for us, and what makes sense for the employers we work with?

3.  How can we cultivate community partnerships outside of refugee resettlement that create new opportunity for clients and for us? Think about city officials, other workforce development professionals or relevant university researchers, students or professors.

4.  How can we develop job readiness or job club programs that build client skills to become independent over time and even increase self-placements?

5.  How can we learn from other refugee employment professionals around the country? Are there strategies and solutions that have worked for others that might work for us too?

You might feel like you can’t afford the time to think beyond current stressors. Your team will be stronger if you do.  You’ll rediscover the joy in your work and you and your clients will be more successful.

If you don’t believe me, ask Google!

DWilkinson HeadshotDaniel Wilkinson is a Philadelphia-based job developer with nearly 5 years experience serving refugee communities. He has worked for Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey in Trenton, NJ and Nationalities Service Center in Philadelphia, PA. 

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Cross Cultural Competence: Fundamental to Our Work

An iceberg is a common metaphor used in cross-cultural studies. What cultural factors could be “beneath” the behaviors we can observe?

Cross-cultural competence was suggested as a future eLearning training topic at the Seattle workshop.  That’s a great idea to improve our effectiveness with each other and with clients.

Stay tuned for more about this topic in a soon to be released Higher eLearning training on Employability Assessment.

One definition of cross-cultural competence refers to your ability to understand people from different cultures and engage with them effectively.

We all think immediately of how this affects our work with clients. Also think about other cross-cultural interactions you have on a regular basis.  They may include colleagues from a refugee background and even native-born citizen colleagues whose identies may be shaped by different factors than your own.

Meanwhile, be mindful of these three core inter-cultural competencies:

1.  Be aware of how your own culture shapes your behaviors, beliefs and biases

2.  Treat others as THEY would like to be treated (sometimes different than what YOU might like).

3.  Learn about the cultures you encounter in your work and think about how they may be shaping the behaviors you observe and experience.

These 12 strategies could help you to become more effective in your work with clients and colleagues from other cultures.  http://www.globalcognition.org/head-smart/cross-cultural-competence/

(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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Free Photographs to Enhance Employer Communication and Outreach

Photographs are important when you’re putting together employer marketing brochures, success stories, social media posts or other types of communication.

Keep that in mind when you visit employers and clients at their workplaces.  It’s much easier to collect photos in the moment than scrambling at the last minute.  For digital images, a smart phone delivers great quality and can also work for print media if you have a steady hand.

PicMonkey Collage

Remember to ask permission (in advance, if possible).  Be sensitive to cultural norms around photography.  Follow any photo release policy your agency might have.

Higher has found a couple of great free resources for generating images for all kinds of communication purposes and wanted to share them with you.

You have definitely seen examples of the results of using both of these sites – and our own photographs – in Higher social media communications.  The image that accompanies this post is a picmonkey.com collage of free images we’ve created or found on the sites listed in the link.



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Research Study Measures Economic Benefits of Job Upgrades Into Professional Career Tracks

It’s often difficult to help refugees with job upgrades or professional recertification, but the added income for refugees and contribution to the US economy make a  significant difference.  Skilled immigrants increased their average annualized salary by 121% (from an average of $16.967 to $37,490) when they begin working in a better job in their field.  A research study released by Upwardly Global in April of this year, documents and quantifies the economic benefits of employment assistance to help skilled immigrants secure job upgrades related to the careers in which they offer skills and experience.    Look for more resources and examples of job upgrade strategies and successes in professional recertification in the coming months at http://higheradvantage.org.



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FREE RESOURCE! Pre-Employment Training

Higher’s July webinar on training design and delivery strategies received rave reviews from all participants with much interest in sharing existing resources geared to pre-employment classes that include multiple English levels.  One of the webinar’s guest presenters, Brittani Mcleod of Catholic Community Services of Utah, agreed to share her tested curriculum outline.  You can download the outline here.  This is a great starting point for any refugee employment service providers who are looking to create a pre-employment training that addresses the needs of job seekers with varying levels of English.  If you would like to receive the full curriculum which includes activities, vocabulary lists and picture cards, contact us.

Picture Card Example from CCS Utah Pre-Employment Curriculum

What strategies or tools are you finding helpful when preparing refugees for employment?  Let us know in the comment section.  We would be happy to feature your program on our website too!

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