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Finding a job as an IT professional and refugee

Manar Khalid

When I left my home country more than 5 years ago and decided to come to the United States as a refugee, I had a big concern: my career.

Back at home I worked as an IT professional for years. I am a software engineer and business administrator certified. My passion is IT and business and all my experience and my degrees came from what’s called here a “third world country,”  so I was afraid that I would never ever work in my field in America.

I always read about how hard is it to find a job in the United States as a refugee and how many doctors end up working in low-income jobs to survive.

I also read about how I have to go back to school and redo all my degrees. I was depressed with a question in my mind: will I ever work in my field again and will my past experience matter?

When I arrived to America and started looking for jobs, my case worker advised me to aim low. He said that I needed to make my resume simple so I can have a simple job as a start. I explained to him I can’t work a simple job because I worked hard to become an IT professional.

I said I was not willing to step down, and he said, “Good luck”.

I did apply to almost one place a day, but I got nothing but rejection as I was overqualified or for unknown reasons. I wasn’t sure – was it because I am a refugee or because of my nationality?

After five months, I removed all my professional experience from my resume and made it simple. My first job was in a warehouse that sells returned items on eBay. The place was dirty and cold and the owner was rude. They used to search my pockets whenever I walked in or walked out. I knew that here, all work history is tracked by my social security number.

I didn’t want my next employer think that I am a quitter so I stayed.

After a year and a half, I got laid off from that job as they struggled to keep the business going. I was secretly happy since I didn’t have to quit, and they let me go. By that time I had already met the qualifications to be a permanent resident (known as a green card) so I applied and got it. Now, I could apply for different types of job, and this time I wanted a step up from physical type of jobs, so I targeted the retail industry.

Every time I apply, I modify my resume to meet the employer expectations. Where I come from, employers look for “know it all” type of people but in America employers looking for “know one thing and know it good” – in other words they are looking for people who are specialized in a subject, like sales or customer service .

So finally I got accepted into one of the biggest wireless companies in America as a retail support specialist. The work was mainly in a retail wireless store that has a lot of dealing with customers. I liked it and I knew that it was the second step in my journey. After two years, I lost the job, and once again I found myself back into “finding a job” journey.

My plan this time was to aim higher.

I was glad they let me go because they gave me a reason to push myself to pursue my career as an IT professional, and my third employer will know than I am NOT a quitter.

I found an IT company hiring near me. The company is global and has a big campus in my area so there is a lot of potential to grow. I always felt under-qualified whenever I read their IT job descriptions so I decided to apply for a sales position with them. They said I was overqualified but said that “one of our IT directors is looking for someone like you.” I was speechless.

A few days later that director called me and we met. I was so nervous. I always feel I am not good enough as my English is intermediate. My experience has gaps and my education is from a third world country, so why would this global company give me a chance! But after 45 minutes, the director start to discuss payment and work arrangement.

I couldn’t believe myself – I was accepted.

Now I have been working as an IT professional for over a year. Yes, it took me 4 years to pick up from where I left off, but it was worth every minute. Every step taught me something about this country and its culture and I needed that so much to be successful.

I finally realized it’s not about from where I got my degree, but it’s about how can I add value to the company. It’s not about where I am from, but it’s about how can I demonstrate my passion and commitment.

My best part of the story is that I am always proud to say I am an immigrant hard worker.

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