Back to the Basics: Advice for Job Applicants & Job Developers

Jordan“The minute you get away from fundamentals – whether its proper technique, work ethic or mental preparation – the bottom can fall out of your game, your schoolwork, your job, whatever you’re doing.”                                                               -Michael Jordan

Without knocking innovation, sometimes the best way forward is to go back to the basics. A recent Lifehacker article made this point when they asked a couple dozen hiring managers to weigh in on how applicants can stand out from the crowd.

Here are their top 10 suggestions and how they apply specifically to refugee employment:

 1.  Be Prompt, but don’t arrive too early to your interview.

Many cultures have more flexible standards when it comes to punctuality than we do in the US. It’s a good idea to encourage clients to be early to appointments and interviews. But make sure to also discuss the importance of not being too early, as that can also make a negative impression.

2.  Don’t apply for a job unless you meet the qualifications. 

This can be a tricky one when working with refugees, many of whom may have limited English and all of whom lack US work experience when they first arrive. On the surface, it may seem like your clients do not meet the qualifications for many jobs. Don’t give up too easily though. Politely push employers to tell you exactly what competencies are necessary for the job at hand. If you think your clients are capable of performing the duties described, make the argument, and close the deal!

3. Research the company. 

The more you know about the company, the more you will be prepared to make the argument that your clients are a good fit for their needs. Whenever possible, share information about the company with your clients before taking them to an interview. They will perform better if they know who they’re talking to.

4. Make the right match. 

Don’t try to force opportunities that are clearly not a good fit. That will not result in long term partnerships. Making a good connection with an employer is the first step, but showing them that you understand their needs is what will keep them coming back.

5. Come prepared with questions. 

Make sure you are prepared with good questions for employers and coach your clients on good questions to ask before the interview. Part of this coaching also means helping them know what questions not to ask (e.g. Can you give me a different schedule so I can work with my brother?).

6. List all your (software) skills on your resume. 

This tip may apply to some higher skilled clients that have software skills but may not mention them. The basic point though is just to make sure you are using the resume to list any skills that demonstrate that you are motivated, reliable and dependable. So even if your clients don’t have formal work experience, find a way to highlight their skills.

7. If you lie, you’ll probably get caught. 

Pretty straightforward. Don’t lie. Don’t even exaggerate. Do, however, find a way to present your clients in the best light possible, demonstrating their skills, and highlighting the unique ways that they will add value to employers.

8. Say thank you. 

Sometimes you should be the one to say it. Sometime your client should be the one to say it. It might be a handwritten note. It might be an email. It might even be a text message to your employer connection saying “Thanks for your time today. I really appreciate your partnership.” There are many ways to say thank you. The point is that you should.

9. Don’t be pushy. 

Following up is part of the process. Either you or your clients should follow up after interviews. Just keep in mind that being persistent and being pushy are two different things. If your client is going to be the one to follow up, make sure to coach him/her on how to do this professionally.

10. Put yourself in the Hiring Manager’s shoes. 

Perhaps the most important tip on this list. You should always be asking yourself questions like “What does the employer want?”, “What would make their life easier?”, “What do my clients bring to the table that would really add value to this company?” If you do this consistently, employers will love working with you, and your clients will get jobs.

If you’d like to read the Lifehacker article in its entirety, you may do so here.

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Volunteer Engagement

8 Ways Volunteers Can Support Refugee Employment 

hs-245-laura-1Guest post by Laura Griffin, Program Coordinator for Volunteerism at LIRS 

We all know the feeling of not having enough hours in the day. One way to stretch your ability to serve refugee clients is to make volunteer support a core part of your employment program. 

A few weeks ago, I sat down with dozens of people from refugee employment programs around the country to ask: How do volunteers and interns support your work?

Here are 8 Ways to Leverage Volunteer Support for Refugee Employment:

1. One-on-One Job Readiness Support 

Volunteers can sit down with individual clients to practice for interviews, edit resumes, fill out job applications, and/or practice skills like how to use the computer to search for jobs.

2. Guest Speakers and Experts

Bring in volunteers as guest speakers from relevant fields (like IT) to talk with clients about the skills employers in their industry look for in job applicants.

3. Support for Highly Skilled Clients

Volunteers can provide individualized job readiness and placement assistance to highly skilled refugee clients.

4. Mentoringmentoring

Mentoring can focus on advanced job readiness training or industry-specific mentoring. If you are interested in designing a mentoring program to assist refugees with long-term career planning, see the free LIRS Guide for Employment Mentoring.

5. Assist with Job Development

Volunteers can help establish employer leads through community outreach, targeted calling and online searching. One participant shared that they have volunteers research job opportunities and send initial emails to potential employers to start the conversation.

6. Increase Access to Service

Volunteers can help enable clients to access employment services by providing rides or offering child care during job readiness classes.

7. Career Fairs 

Have volunteers take clients to career fairs and help them follow up with potential job leads

8. Case Support and Service Plans 

While it can seem a bit daunting, many participants shared success stories of having interns and star volunteers manage cases and design service plans.

How do you leverage volunteers and interns?  Leave a comment below or contact us if you use volunteers and interns to support your refugee employment programs.

Related: Additional Employment Volunteer Resources, New Collection of Employment Volunteer Resources

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Job Readiness Activities for Adult Learners

Last week in Denver, attendees in the job readiness session participated in an activity to list the tools, resources and activities they currently use with clients.  Here’s the combined list.  If possible, a link to a version of the activity is included.  If you have a different version of any activity, or you have any resources to add, please contact us so we can update the list!

Interview Practice

Mock Interviews

Record Clients & Play Back for Client

Practice Interview Questions

Interactive Activities

Job Readiness Bingo

Body Language Activities

Flash Card Bowling

Welcome Circle: Begin Class by Asking Everyone Name, Origin, Languages and their First Job

First Day: Classroom Expectations – Importance of Classroom Success

Incorporating Certificates after Job Day Trainings

Resume Jeopardy


Identifying Skills that Refugees Have – Physical vs. Personal Skills

Explain How to Transfer Skills

Look at Job Listing Examples and ask, “Do you have the skills?”


Picture Heavy PowerPoint

Visual Resources


Describe Career Dreams Using Pictures


Videos to show the Work Done at Different Jobs

Quality Control Video – Quality, Quantity


Realia – Safety Gear

Higher Resources

Higher Advantage Modules

U.S. Job Cycle Visual (page 2)

Guided Practice

Mock Hotel Environment – Practice

Dishwasher Training at Location

Time Clock Practice

Time Clock for Attendance

Production Line Simulation

6-Day Training Spurts (short-term)

Applications & Resumes

Resume Preparation

Filling out Applications

Applications Planted at Businesses

In Class Resume Building (Skeleton Version)

Practice Application

Job Search

How to Find Jobs

Digital Literacy

Computer Lab

Mobile Computer Labs

Group Discussions

Small Group Discussion about Hygiene & Dress

Small Groups – Have clients create their own business & say what skills are needed for job

Specific Training Topics

Safety Classes: Use signs with Pictures, explain what signs mean. Explain the importance of reporting issues

Lessons on Trauma and the Impact of Trauma

Workplace Culture (i.e. handshakes & other non-verbal communication)

Job Security/Responsibility to Communicate with Supervisors (2 weeks notice)

Coworker relationships, manners, mannerisms

Hygiene, Grooming

Transportation – Teaching bus lines

English Instruction

Translated Materials

Mandatory ESL

Teach Job-Appropriate Vocabulary

Community Partnerships

Clothing Donations as Incentives

Local Library Partnerships

Adding Social Enterprises into your Curriculum

Financial Literacy

I-9 & W-2 (Tax & Pay)

Explain Payroll, Direct Deposit and Tax Forms

Assist with Opening Bank Account


Record Videos of Interpreters


Go Over Pre-Employment Assessment (Reading Comprehension)

Mock Interview/Application Process as Assessment



Tour at Companies


Childcare (Paid Employees)

One-on-One Pre-Employment Counseling

Wish List

More Tactile Activities

Child Care Resources – Toys for Kids


Factoring in Trauma when making Job Placements

Meat Packing isn’t good for People with Trauma

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Don’t Be Afraid to Reschedule a Client Job Interview

lateThere are so many things that can make you late when you’re taking clients to a job interview. The van won’t start. That one guy was really late. You wasted 10 minutes looking for the stack of resumes prepared for the employer.

I can picture several times when this happened to me. I suspect I’m not alone, right?

Reading a recent article in made me realize that I should have handled these situations differently. It’s much better to call and ask to reschedule if you see that you’ll be late or arrive with frazzled and unfocused candidates. 

Everyone’s nervous anyway. A scramble to be on time or a frantic last minute group review en route can really mess up client confidence. Interviewers will usually honor a request to reschedule, especially if you make it clear that the reasons don’t reflect poorly on client timeliness or reliability.

Hmm.  Wish I’d thought of this myself a lot sooner.


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Interview Preparation Infographic

A big part of job readiness activities includes providing clients with the skills they need to successfully interview for employment. We’ve covered this topic before (10 Interview Preparation Best Practices), but when we saw the infographic below, it just seemed too good to keep to ourselves.

To summarize, there are 5 things that you can help clients do to prepare for interviews:

  1. Get Organized – help clients plan routes and be sure they know to arrive 15 minutes early.
  2. Make a Good First Impression – be sure clients dress appropriately and smile.
  3. Demonstrate Energy and Enthusiasm – this includes making eye contact and having confidence.
  4. Research – both the company and the role.
  5. Demonstrate Attitude and Aptitude – help clients practice those infamous behavioral interview questions (check out Interview Behavior Videos to see more on this topic).

For more details and some fun facts, check out the infographic below.

Interview Preparation Infographic

Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics

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Job Interviews 101: Basic Components and Key Skills for All Clients

Preparing for Job Interview: Calendar and PlanThrowback Thursday: a classic Higher blog post about a fundamental of our work.

How many times have you helped clients land a job interview only to have them freeze and lose out on a job they would have rocked? There can never be too much interview preparation – for general skill building and specifically for a targeted position.

Job readiness training or other group classes can help convey the basics, but it takes repetition and individual practice to gain confidence in interviewing.  Even when you have the inside track based on employer relationships, poor interview skills can still cost clients jobs.

Most job interviews include three basic parts: 1) Establishing a Positive First Impression; 2) Demonstrating a Good Fit; and 3) Confirming Interest in the Position.  Keep this three-part framework in mind to help clients synthesize information from different sources (e.g. job readiness classes, one-on-one interview prep and real interview experience) and deepen their skills over time.

1.   Establishing a Positive First Impressions:  Confident Greetings and Introduction

For clients with very low English language skills, first impressions are especially important. Building their confidence is the key to helping all clients demonstrate their language skills English by introducing themselves (Hello, my name is…) with a great smile, firm handshake and good eye contact.  Appropriate attire, interview etiquette, posture and personal hygiene are also important parts of this basic preparation to succeed in interviews and the U.S. workforce in general.

2.   Demonstrating a Good Fit:  Learning about the Job and Talking about Yourself

After greetings, interviews can include questions, a tour of the facilities or explanations about the nature of the position and company.  You can help clients prepare to experience different approaches and understand that the purpose is the same – to see if they will be a good fit for the job.

Clients  are seldom comfortable with self-promotion, which can feel like boasting or bragging in the context of their home cultures.   Explain that employers look for qualities and characteristics as much as concrete skills and experience.

They may hear different questions, but their answers should emphasize the qualities and characteristics they offer, including relevant skills and experience.  Clients need to be able to convey a positive attitude and energy that shows why they will be a good employee.

Interview practice questions may include:

  • Why should I hire you (and not someone else) for this position?
  • Why do you want to work for our company?
  • What makes you the best person for this job?
  • What motivated you to apply for this position?

Some typical qualities employers look for include dependable, reliable, on-time, friendly or other customer service traits.

3.   Confirming Interest in the Position:  Asking Questions and Confirming Next Steps

Job interviews usually end with the opportunity for the candidate to ask a question. Not doing so can cost your client the job. Explaining the importance of taking the chance to demonstrate interest in the job, company or some aspect of the opportunity is the best lead in to practicing possible questions.

It’s also important to outline what questions they should NOT ask.  For example, emphasizing break and lunch times and compensation can create the impression that a candidate will not be a “good worker”.  Other questions that express worry about how to find the right bus stop or getting to work on time are better addressed outside of the interview.  Everyone wants to know if they got the job, but it’s helpful to explain that asking about “next steps in the process” is a more acceptable way to ask that question.

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How to Create the Wrong Impression in Job Interviews

wrong impressionThe five reasons people only get one job interview (not a call back or a job offer) presents the employer perspective and offers practical alternative behaviors that will create a more hire-able impression. Click here for a unique take on an essential job readiness topic for all our clients.

For example, it’s common to caution clients not to ask about money, break time or their schedule requirements in an initial interview. This article explains the cultural assumptions behind that advice and offers very specific instructions for when those questions are more appropriate.

Give a copy as homework for higher-skilled clients before job readiness class or preparation for an actual job interview.  Doing so will help you accommodate a wide range of skill levels in the same session, rather than offering separate sessions that take more of your time to develop and deliver.

Clients that read the article will still benefit from the same basic points everyone needs to know. The additional information will help them go beyond the basics to develop better strategies for success – and stronger alternative questions.



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Vladimir Bessonov’s Vocabulary List

Vladimir Bessonov’s vocabulary list of PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS EMPLOYERS LOOK FOR to enhance your work with clients. You can see the original Higher blog post that explains how to use this tool HERE.

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Hidden Agendas: Stereotypes and Cultural Barriers to Corporate-Community Partnerships

Hidden Agendas: Stereotypes and Cultural Barriers to Corporate-Community Partnerships, prepared by Laufer Green Isaac.

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Technique to Help Clients Answer “Give Me an Example” Interview Questions

Supernova star burstHelping our clients master job interview skills is a basic of what we do.  “Give me an example from your experience” questions are an employment professional’s nightmare and they are becoming much more common in interviews for all kinds of jobs.

It’s a struggle to help refugees understand what work place skills are valued in the US and feel confident in which ones they can offer.  Delivering a concise, relevant example when you’re nervous already is not easy for anyone.  Then, add language barriers and your scheduling limitations to the mix.  Ugh.

The S T A R Technique – Situation, Task, Activity and Result – is a great tool to help clients structure responses to “give me example” questions.  Read more about it in an article from The Guardian, that also gives a great explanation of competency based job interviews.

This real life example from my 6.5 years working in employment at Caritas of Austin, TX applies this great approach to our clients.

A major hospital partner provided exact interview questions, each linked to a corporate value (like integrity or service to the poor).  Several of the questions required real life examples of that quality.  Building the skill to answer those questions took many steps:   Explain the concept of corporate values.  Define many of the words.  Provide illustrative examples.  Help the client think of their own examples.  Then, finally, practice each response.  We conducted small group interview preparation to screen candidates for very competitive positions at an exacting employer.

We learned that the example doesn’t have to be from a similar job or even from a work context.  The important thing is to use a real story and don’t refuse to answer.  I helped more than 50 clients apply for this job and prepare for the interview.  No client who didn’t at least try was ever offered a position.  Several who got job offers struggled with this type of question.  Their answers were real and thoughtful, but not always perfect.

Value:  Respect

Question:  Think of a time when you disagreed with your supervisor.  How did you handle the situation?

Possible Response Using the S T A R Technique:  (from a Burmese client who had worked in Malaysia)

  • Situation: When I worked in a warehouse, an important customer walked in and asked to buy 10 cases of our canned fish.  That’s a big order for us.
  • Task:  The manager was new and didn’t know he was a good customer.  He told me to tell him no because he didn’t have an appointment.  I didn’t think this was the right decision.
  • Activity:  I told the manager who the customer was and also told him I had time to work on loading the order now and still do all my other work.
  • Result:  The manager was glad that he did not make a mistake and embarrass a good customer. He introduced himself, apologized for the wait and sent someone else out to get tea while I hurried to load the order.  The customer and the manager were both happy.
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