Securing a Job When English Is Not Your First Language

by Todd Walton

Language Barrier Job Search

Gainful employment is like climbing a mountain. You have to start somewhere, and it won’t be easy. Don’t despair, however, there are things you can do that will assist you in your climb, and no matter what, it will be worth it. Keep in mind that the climb never really ends, and may not ever get any easier, but it does get more rewarding.

Unskilled Workers

If English is not your first language, unfortunately your climb will be more difficult, but there are some things you can do that will help you. Ultimately, you should be working to gain the skills that will enable you to leave the unskilled job market. For now, however, you still need to work.

Finding the job that will enable you to start your climb begins with knowing what jobs are out there. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes annual statistics that show which job markets are on the rise and therefore present opportunities. Current statistics suggest that construction jobs and healthcare jobs are on the rise (2017).

There are organizations that can help you secure this type of work. The Staffing Alliance can help you find a job and even speak to employers on your behalf. Other organizations like The American Staffing Association help people find temporary work. These organizations provide safety to workers so that employers can’t take advantage of them. They provide an excellent alternative to going it alone and risking the possibility that the employer will not fulfill their part of the bargain. Hiring officials in these organizations keep track of workers and will recommend people for longer term assignments when they recognize those who work hard and are reliable. Regardless of where you live, you can find organizations that can help. There is no shame in asking for help, so don’t be shy. No one gets to the top without help.

Once you have identified what type of job you would like to get, you need to find out who is hiring. WorkBloom's jobs database lists jobs of every type in any location. Make sure however to use the right keywords and different variations of the same word if need be.

Still not sure what type of job to look for? My Next Move is a survey site that will ask you questions to find out what type of employment would be best for you. The great thing about this survey is that it will show you jobs you can get without any further preparation or training, and it will show you jobs that you can work towards. This is a great way to begin looking forward to the job you would like to have further down the road.

Whether you are applying for a job in the construction industry, healthcare, or food preparation industry, you still need to sell yourself. Put on your best outfit, and remember to smile. It doesn’t matter what industry you are trying to enter, no one wants to work with an angry, unhappy coworker. Put your pride aside and just remember that this is the first part of the climb. Keeping a positive attitude and showing that you will show up and work hard will go a long way in getting you recognized when new opportunities arise.

While you are looking for work, and even once you start working, you should always be thinking about your next move. Most likely your next step will require some skills. Build your work skills while you are on the job, and always take on more responsibilities if the opportunity arises. When you are off the job, look for training classes. Community centers almost always offer job skills classes. Organizations like Computer C.O.R.E. in Fairfax County, Virginia, help unskilled workers gain the skills necessary to move forward in their careers. These skills are extremely important in your climb. Get them whenever and wherever you can.

Don’t forget that English is the language of commerce in the United States, so increasing your English proficiency is a must. This does not mean that you should ever forget your heritage or first language. Being bilingual is even better than just speaking English, but the ability to communicate in English is just a fact of life in the US, and the more able you are to speak English the more likely your chances of advancing.

Skilled and Educated Workers

Perhaps you’ve already been climbing this mountain, and have come to the United States with specific skills or a college degree. While the US job market may seem intimidating, taking an organized approach can simplify the entire process. The keyword is preparation. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will be.

First, you have to have a professional resume. It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of the organization and content of your resume. Make sure your resume highlights your skills, work experience, and education. If the job for which you are applying requires skills, but not necessarily educational credentials, then make sure that your skills are front and center. Likewise, if your education matches the requirements of the job, make sure your resume reflects this match. Pay particular attention to the wording of the job announcement. Use the language in the job announcement to describe your skills.

Next, prepare for your interview. Your preparation should start with notes and a script. Write down your introduction word for word. This will help you gain confidence at the very start of the interview. Practice your introduction by looking in the mirror. It may seem a bit awkward, but this type of practice can help you feel more natural during your interview. There are certain questions that always get asked, for which many people still do not have good answers. The first, and probably most annoying is, what is your biggest weakness? Be sure that you think this one through, and script out your answer to this question in advance.

Remember, each person who has made it to the interview stage is most likely qualified for the job. So, now is the time where you need to convince your future employer that you will be a good employee, and someone with whom everyone will enjoy working. This means you need to smile, look each interviewer in the eyes, and say their names. When the first person introduces him/herself, smile and say, “nice to meet you, Ms. Walker” or whatever the person’s name actually is. Do your best to remember each person’s name so you can call them by their name when they ask questions during the interview. It may seem like a lot for a single interview, but being prepared will help you overcome any nervousness about listening, understanding and responding in a language that isn’t your first language.

We all have our own mountains to climb. The point is that there are ways to make the climb easier so you have the stamina to continue. There really is no alternative to the climb, so you might as well gain the tools that will enable you to reach the top.

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