The Challenges of Integrating into the U.S. Workforce
At OnWord Partner, we are acutely aware of the challenges skilled immigrants face as they try to adapt to the U.S. workforce. From the overwhelming difficulties that come with adopting a new culture, to dealing with employer prejudices, OnWord client, Sasha, has experienced it all.
In January of 2017, Sasha moved to the United States from Kyrgyzstan, already equipped with more than 10 years of work experience with NGOs, conducting evaluations and research assignments for U.S.-funded projects on public healthcare, immigration, youth development and gender violence. So when he came to the United States, Sasha says that he was “confident that there would be an international organization that would find [his] skills appropriate for its mission.” But it’s almost never that easy.
“The first several weeks were very exciting and at the same time very challenging. In addition to job search, I had to deal with adjusting to a new life, people, and living place,” Sasha shares.
Immediately upon his arrival to the United States, Sasha began his job search. On average, he submitted five job applications every day. He even joked that applying for jobs was already a full-time position.
“This was a lot of work to do--make sure that resume responds to job requirements, cover letter shows how you stand out of the rest candidates, and complete all necessary online application. And many orgs, in addition to a cover letter and resume, request you to create an account with them and run small test to check your expertise.”
These efforts did not pay off as soon as Sasha had hoped.
“Although, working hard towards my goal to get job in Boston, I did not get any immediate responses from employers. I comforted myself that Boston is large city, and it takes time to review all applications. I strongly hoped that my application was in the pile of files to be reviewed, and that I would be contacted soon.”
With time, Sasha began to hear back from potential employers. According to Sasha, they seemed to be interested in his skillset and years of experience, but there was always one problem: he didn’t have any work experience in the U.S.
“As I come from different work culture and country, everyone wanted to be sure that I would not do anything inappropriate, thus wanted to minimize their risks,” Sasha explains.
Disheartened by his lack of success, Sasha decided to settle for a job in retail services. Here, he noticed that he was surrounded by immigrants whose stories closely mirrored his own.
“When I started a job in retail, I was surprised to see how many professionals from other countries are working in sales… They are good doctors, teachers, lawyers, but with no U.S. work experience or appropriate training. They had not had the chance to pursue the same careers in U.S.”
Seeing others abandon their lifelong dreams and accept their new roles in a less than desirable industry, Sasha’s drive to pursue a fulfilling career was renewed. While employed in retail, Sasha continued hunting for jobs in data management and analysis. Knowing that his approach was not working, he was also seeking professional help from a career counselor.
“Something had to be changed, but I did not have any clue what should be changed in my job strategy, personality or career goals.”
At this point, Sasha turned to generic internet searches, using keywords like “career advising” and “skillful immigrant.” This ultimately led him to OnWord Partner’s webpage. After doing some research on OnWord, Sasha decided to fill out the online application for a free consultation and promptly received a reply from Shelly Hedstrom.
Sasha conducted video calls with Shelly every week and exchanged emails daily. During their face-to-face meetings, they would go over helpful reading materials and discuss interview strategies.
“[Shelly] would teach me how to find what skills employers want the candidate to have and show me different ways on putting them in my resume and cover letter… She also pointed out my transferable skills, and demonstrated ways to sell them to my future employers,” he says.
Shelly worked with Sasha for four months before he received a job offer within his field of interest.
“By the end, he was smiling with amazing confidence and just being himself, very natural smiles and talking in a natural voice. It was such a transformation,” Shelly describes.
After years of rigorous searching, Sasha is now a data manager with the Community Action Agency of Somerville (CAAS), an organization working to “reduce poverty among local families and individuals while working to counteract--and whenever possible, eliminate--the societal conditions that cause and perpetuate poverty.” In the future, Sasha says that he will continue to look for opportunities with international organizations that will allow him to work with communities in need all over the globe.