By Kirsten Boele
Starting a new life from scratch is expensive, but most refugees arrive in Tucson with next to nothing. With limited funds the first priority for refugees is getting a job as soon as possible.
However, getting a job is easier said than done.
The recession may have officially ended at the start of 2010, but the job market still remains incredibly tight. The unemployment rate in Tucson keeps hovering around the record-high of nine percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Refugees are not only faced with a scarcity of job openings, many of them speak little English and are total strangers to American job market etiquette.
Employment Specialist Stacy Patrick gives job-readiness training to help IRC clients navigate the job market in Tucson. In this weekly class refugees learn how to look for jobs, how to fill out applications, how to dress and act in an interview and many other valuable job-hunting tips and tricks.
The best-selling book “What Color is Your Parachute?” by Richard Nelson Bolles about alternative ways of job-hunting is a helpful resource. Patrick says, “I use it weekly in my classes, where I am working with dozens of refugees that are looking for work and feel very discouraged and it helps them use their time more wisely.”
This number one job-manual was first published in 1970. Now, forty years later, the book sold over ten million copies, is translated in twenty languages and is revised and updated every year. In a phone interview author Bolles says, “the skeleton stayed the same, but the flesh has changed.”
And the flesh of the book is about the American job market. How is it different from other cultures? Bolles, who wrote the article “Culture Affects Career and Life Planning” for American.gov, compared different job market cultures and says, “The first American idea is the idea that is OK for you to stand out. We prize people who stand out. We make heroes out of them or heroines.”
In other cultures this is a definite no-go. Wadhah Mohammed Ali, 29, arrived in Tucson as an Iraqi refugee two months ago. When talking about job interviews Ali says, “in Iraq modesty is important and bragging is not modest, it is rude” and refers to the Iraqi saying, “who flatters himself, actually disgraces himself.” In his job-hunt Ali still has to get used to the competitive concept of selling yourself to fit in the American frame.
But even when finally getting a grasp on American job protocol, the language disadvantage remains problematic in today’s economic climate and job-hunting often becomes a long and discouraging process.
Author Bolles’ advice is “You just keep going and keep going and keep going through an endless succession of no, no, no, we don’t want you, until you find somebody who says yes.”
And that is the reality in many cases. Patrick says, “We will have people come in here we work with extensively for the first months and just nothing seems to happen. They stop coming and a few months later they come in and they say ‘yeah, I got a job!’ It is very, very rewarding.”