In the World Relief Seattle employment office, our team uses a whiteboard to keep track of job leads and prospective applicants.
Black pen indicates companies that have open positions, while colored pens (each color representing a different employment program) indicate employment program participants who are interested in applying to the corresponding company.
Usually, the board has a healthy balance of companies and job seekers. But sometimes, there is more black than colored ink on the whiteboard, which means there are many more employment opportunities than appropriate candidates.
How can an employment program best navigate this situation?
I always try to stay positive when an employer partner reaches out with a job opportunity. “Thanks for checking in,” I might say, “I’ll pass this along to my team and we’ll let you know if we have any great candidates for you.” Even if I’m quite sure that we don’t have an appropriate client for the position, I remind myself that one of my teammates might have recently connected with a new program participant that would be an excellent candidate.
However, if after three days to two weeks of looking for candidates (depending on the timeline of the employer) results in no job applicant prospects, check back in with the employer and let them know that you don’t currently have any candidates for them.
I often end the conversation asking the employer if they would like us to continue to keep our eyes out for this position. Maybe they’ve filled it and don’t need candidates, or maybe the position is still open and they would still like candidate referrals. In this situation, checking in by email often works best (depending on the employer).
A quick message of, “I hope things are going well – do you anticipate any open positions soon?” often gets a response of, “Thanks for checking in – we’re good at the moment,” or, “I’m glad you asked -we’re looking to fill two positions.”
Whichever way you do it, communicate with honesty in order to maintain a strong and trusting relationship.
Keep the Long View
Employment programs thrive when employment staff focus on cultivating long-term relationships. The goal is a mutually-beneficial relationship with a local employer partner – never a single job for a single program participant.
When you don’t have appropriate applicants for current openings at an employer partner, remember the long view. The company values your communication, service, and history of providing excellent candidates and follow-up support. Communicate with them that you don’t have any candidates at the time, but that you’ll continue to follow up with them and value their partnership.
For example, I frequently check in with a local labeling company that has hired from World Relief for over a decade. Just last week, after nearly a year of no new hires, the company reached out to us and has hired two job seekers, and possibly a third. They value us as a resource even if there are long stretches between hiring our job seekers.
Refer Employers to Other Employment Programs
A few years ago, a collection of refugee employment service providers in King County, WA, gathered together to create the Refugee Employment Coalition (REC). The coalition meets together for professional development, special projects, and to share employment leads.
When World Relief repeatedly has no qualified job applicants for an employer partner, we may contact the service providers in REC and share our job leads. While some employment programs might see this as a risk for losing their relationship with their employer partner, we see this as an opportunity to provide high-quality service to our employer partners by referring them to additional services.
(Before referring your employment partners to other service providers, though, I recommend developing relationships with other refugee service providers in order to vouch for the quality of their employment services.)
Our work is a giant puzzle with moving parts that sometimes fit together, and sometimes don’t. As this puzzle shifts with client demographics, the job market, and a variety of other uncontrollable factors, we can do our best to provide excellent service to our employer partners so that they continue to have a wonderful experience hiring newly-arrived refugees!