What are the biggest misconceptions about hiring foreign workers, and how can we overcome them? Upwardly Global CEO Nikki Cicerani weighs in.
“They have all of this aptitude and ability, and what they really need is a little guidance and a few connections,” says Nikki Cicerani of the skilled immigrants and refugees served by Upwardly Global, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to eliminate employment barriers for these individuals. “These job seekers are met with a lot of rejection. Upwardly Global gives them coaching and the confidence to keep trying by empowering them with new information, new skills and strategies that will allow them to be successful in the U.S. workforce.”
Drawn to Upwardly Global’s strong mission and vision, Cicerani joined the organization in 2007 as a managing director. “[Upwardly Global] seemed like a place where I could make a contribution, given my own skills and experience. I could see it really taking off, and I wanted to be part of it.” Today, Cicerani is president and chief executive officer, having succeeded founder Jane Leu in 2009. Under her leadership, Upwardly Global has grown from a two-office organization serving 100 job seekers annually to one that helps to place 500 job seekers across 35states into professional jobs.
In addition to helping work-authorized immigrants and refugees make successful transitions to the U.S. workforce, Upwardly Global also partners with employers to raise awareness of the skilled immigrant population and help employers integrate these workers into the mainstream workforce. Aside from helping companies hire, Cicerani says, Upwardly Global also facilitates skills-based volunteering opportunities. “We form a lot of partnerships with companies who engage their employees as volunteers in our program. The employees act as mentors, mock interviewers, or host networking events to provide real-world interaction between the people in the company and our candidates. These interactions allow the employers to see just how much potential these workers have, while also developing their own cross-cultural communication skills in a way that is very cost-effective for employers.
Clearing Up the Biggest Misconceptions About Hiring Foreign Workers
Despite the progress Upwardly Global has made and continues to make, there remain misconceptions about hiring workers from other countries. Cicerani recently spoke with us about some of the biggest misconceptions around the skilled immigrant and refugee population, and shared some of her best advice for hiring and recruiting these workers.
- Look beyond the resume. Resumes can be deceiving when it comes to immigrant workers, who often have gaps in their employment histories due to working “survival jobs” while making the transition to the U.S. Also, resumes from other countries can look very different from a U.S.-style resume, and may contain personal information like marital status, number of children, or even weight. For this reason, employers need to look beyond the resume and meet with candidates in person. “Only when employers meet these candidates face-to-face and see how much experience and motivation they have do their perceptions change in terms of whether this person could be their colleague or not,” Cicerani says.
- Let past experiences speak for themselves. When it comes to evaluating foreign workers’ skill sets, employers often have a hard time evaluating foreign degrees and experience against U.S. degrees, Cicerani says. One way Upwardly Global helps employers overcome this struggle is by training them on behavioral interviewing practices. “These allow them to glean from candidates’ past experiences to decipher if they have the skills needed to fulfill the requirements of the job available.”
- Let go of stereotypes. One of the biggest challenges foreign workers struggle with is overcoming the misconception that they need sponsorship, when in fact, the majority of Upwardly Global’s candidates have permanent authorizationto work in the U.S. “The media may have you believe all immigrants are either undocumented, on an H1-B or on foreign student visas,” Cicerani says, when that’s simply not true. If employers could let go of this stereotype, it would eliminate many of the hurdles for this talent pool.
- Look to them to fill those long-term vacancies. “We’re filling the most in-demand positions in the economy,” Cicerani says, referring to the fact that, between 2011 and the end of 2012, 63 percent of the job seekers Upwardly Global placed went into the top 10 positions companies have said they have the hardest time filling. In other words, many of these workers possess the skills employers need most right now and could be instrumental in filling the skills gap.
- Beware business lingo. While terms like “think outside the box,” “low-hanging fruit” or “all hands on deck” may be common in the U.S., this type of business jargon is completely alien to these workers. “Managers need to be aware of the kind of shorthand we use in the workplace. They can help job seekers by either being aware of when they use it and explaining what it means, or simply using more explicit language,” Cicerani advises.
- Recognize their diversity as a strength. Aside from technical skills, these workers possess traits any employer would be lucky to have. “Just by virtue of being an immigrant, they’ve proven themselves to risk-takers, resourceful and resilient,” Cicerani points out. “As an employer myself, those are qualities that are appealing to me and what I want to see in the people I have on my team.”
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