Work history break in war refugees' CVs/resumes - best practices?
May 20, 2017 12:35 AM   Subscribe

I volunteer for a non-profit where I find myself once in a while helping a person who was a refugee of war to get their resume together. Is there a standardized way to say what is basically, "My family was in a camp for eight years at this point"? Like, the feeling is that the whole thing needs an asterisk, but I don't know how to communicate that in a business-like way.

As an example, I'm currently working with someone who was stuck in Syria unable to work. His family had to move right after he was done with college in Baghdad, but finally years later he's in the U.S. with some siblings. Job history is therefore suspiciously sparse-looking. Any advice? Thank you!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Don't address the employment gaps in the resume. In the cover letter say something like "In Homs, Syria I was a custodian at a school where I took careful pride in cleaning a community institution. The political climate made my job obsolete and I'm excited to apply my skills and experience to the cafeteria at Mercy Hospital where I can serve the people of my new community."
posted by pintapicasso at 2:40 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]

I would expect you have a degree of advocacy involved with the companies/organisations your clients are sending these applications to, so they know what to expect. I worked with a person who had been in a refugee camp and it was my covering letter for his résumé that helped him land his first job. A covering letter from you, affirming his story and offering a clear understanding to the employer that you/non-profit have surmised this person is fit to work would go a long way. It is better to be honest about the time as a refugee, unable to work, and if it's possible he remembers classes he may have taken while in camp, to include this instead of creating a little lie the person will need to remember for an eternity.
posted by parmanparman at 5:23 AM on May 20 [3 favorites]

If someone has relevant experience, it seems like the cover letter suggestion is a good one.

Can you find ways to spin whatever people were doing while in the refugee camp as a experience to list as if it were a formal job? I mean, some people are stuck doing pretty much nothing, but you might have, I don't know, a nurse who was checking in on elderly people and that might get them a leg up on a lower-skilled health care job while they deal with licensing. And even if they were collecting the garbage, it can at least be used to convey "I'm reliable and show up on time."

You're better positioned than I am to know how to balance exposing yourself to bias by disclosing refugee status vs the problems of gaps in work history (or total lack of experience for students/young people).

Off the wall suggestion: it's the wrong time of year, but I wonder if you could convince a local university to let people like the person you mentioned go to their career fairs. The recruiters definitely write notes on the resumes and a note saying "became refugee right after graduating" might counteract the "WTF, it's been N years since they graduated and they've not had a job" reaction.
posted by hoyland at 5:47 AM on May 20

> I would expect you have a degree of advocacy involved with the companies/organisations your clients are sending these applications to, so they know what to expect.

That is far from universal though.

I think I would look to the way people in other circumstances manage long employment gaps due to specific events like becoming a stay-at-home parent or caring for a terminally ill family member. Often this is addressed in the applicant's cover letter, though the phrase "took a career break" is obviously not applicable. Still, I would look to resources and resume examples for Women Returners and Workforce Returners. If there is anything he can do to show current relevancy for his CV -- free online courses or training or certifications, for example -- I would encourage that, too.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:43 AM on May 20

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