Refugee Orientation: The Job Market

August 15, 2016

Among the priorities for many refugees when they arrive in the United States is finding a job. So the seventh class in Catholic Charities’ 10-part series of life in the United States focused on preparing for the job market.

Many participants said they were excited to pursue new careers, even if they couldn’t yet communicate in English. Some said they hadn’t been able to support their families or been free to work towards careers in their home countries.

As they gathered, Zadok Taylor, a facilitator with People-Places-Things started to passed out images of chefs, landscapers, business people, and healthcare professionals.

Taylor explained the laws setting a minimum wage. The federal government sets the minimum wage for the country, but states can chose to set a higher minimum wage. Oregon’s minimum wage is $9.75 per hour, and the standard workweek is 40 hours.

Participants said they didn’t have a minimum wage back home. They were paid based on the discretion of their employer. Usually they were paid monthly, and it didn’t matter how many hours they’d worked. They never received overtime pay.

Taylor also told the class that employers in the United States cannot verbally abuse or yell at their employees.

“I really like how in U.S, it’s not normal for your boss or coworkers to yell at you,” said Hani Duale, who came from Uganda by way of a Somali refugee camp. “When I lived in my country, my boss or someone who was higher level than me, could yell at me at anytime. All we could do was listen. Because they the money and power.”

Taylor discussed common business dress when meeting potential employers for their job interviews; no t-shirts, jeans, yoga pants, short pants, or sandals.

Back home, the refugees didn’t have to go through interview to get the job unless they are applying for a higher level position because most of the jobs they could find were farming, landscaping. They couldn’t find a better job because their education level was not high enough to get them a good job.

The discussion covered common interview questions, such as “how are you?” and  “tell me about yourself.” The answer should focus on the job skills and work experience, rather than on the family and home life. Be optimistic the staff suggested.

An employer might also ask, “Why do you want this job?” Obviously money is the primary driver, but keep the focus on more altruistic reasons the job is desirable. Maybe it’s serving people or using and improving skills.