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.

Opinions expressed and advice given in USAHello’s Voices and Hello blogs are the writers’ own. USAHello offers impartial information and online courses to help newcomers in the USA.