Lin’s job search began shortly after she immigrated to Philadelphia. She hoped
her professional experience in Hotel management could be applied to the
U.S. market. One day she came across a website offers immigrants career
counseling and help them find jobs. This was exactly what she had been looking
for! But how do they help immigrants find jobs? And what kind of jobs?
Making an Appointment
With all these questions in mind, Lin called the Welcoming Center for New
Pennsylvanians (known as WCNP) and a staff woman answered the phone. After hearing
Lin’s inquiry, she bombarded her with a series of questions that sounded scripted:
“What is your nationality? How did you arrive in the United States? Do you have a driver’s
license? Are you currently employed? If you are unemployed, how are you currently
Lin told her that WCNP had advertised resources on the Internet for offering immigrants
career counseling to individuals with work experience which was the reason she was
The person on the phone advised Lin to jot down what she had to bring: green card,
social security card, driver’s license, degree certificates, bills with an address, financial
aid, and a $50 American ‘Money Order’—on the chance WCNP was able to help Lin find
work. If Lin didn’t resign or get laid off within a year, then they would refund the $50.
Lin thought the Money Order aspect was strange, but nevertheless agreed to an
Training and Examinations
On the appointment day, Lin and five other job applicants sat in a meeting room
in anticipation of their being placed in a position. After initial introductions, they
discovered most of them came from locations such as Eastern Europe and Africa.
Their time spent in America ranged from 9 months to 20 years. Similar to Lin,
they all had held professional jobs in their home country — there were lawyers,
engineers, human resources, and so on.
Of course everyone knew English, but all had accents and issues with grammatical
flow. Lin was mostly surprised that everyone had a driver’s license, including the
immigrant who had only arrived 9 months ago. Lin was relieved that she had gotten
her driver’s license despitesome of the trouble and challenges she had encountered..
There was a ‘Soft Skills Training Handbook’ on each person’s seat, with the sub-
head as: ‘Helping you start on the American career path’. Upon seeing those
words, Lin grew anxious with anticipation. How exactly would she embark on
this path? What would be the first step?
After hearing everyone’s introductions, the training instructor sharply said:
“Your chance to find work will be contingent on your English ability. If your
English is good, your work options can be expanded to include telephone service.
Otherwise, you may have to find construction work.” The instructor had a point,
but were there no alternatives to these two options?
In the subsequent two hours, the training content varied from how to fill out
work applications, how to write your resume, interview techniques; how
Americans emphasize social manners, a happy demeanor and a friendly and
cheerful attitude towards customers and how the value of a handshake and
a ‘Thank you’ signified this… Lastly, the instructor said WCNP helps its clients
obtain entry-level jobs.
To become a senior manager in any organization or company, one had to have
a thorough understanding of American culture. Thus, entering a company and
rising internally was the realistic plan. After giving these instructions, the instructor
requested everyone to take an English and math examination. Lin scanned the
questions. Math was easy, with thousand’s subtraction and dealing with 2-digit
numbers. One person asked if he could use a calculator, and was immediately rejected.
An examination in English was WPCN’s way of testing reading comprehension.
Do you want to work at the Casino?
After the exam, a recruiter brought Lin into her office and began inquiring
about her specific work experience and income in her home country (converted
into U.S. dollars). Lin explained she had 5-years work experience in Hotel
management in China and hoped to put her skills to good use in the U.S.
The recruiter enthusiastically said: “Right now there coincidentally is an
opportunity!” Lin’s heart beat faster, she could not believe her ears. “There is
a casino expansion happening, and they need a customer representative.” The
recruiter continued, “Your work background seems to have made you the very
appropriate for this position!” Lin did not know how to respond.
Casino was a word that tested her professional occupational boundaries.
The recruiter furthered explained that this job was entry level and would pay
$12 dollars per hour. “Once you enter the company, in three to five years there
will be an opportunity to be promoted to a more desired position.”
Lin quickly ran the numbers: $12 per hour, $96 per day, $1,920 per month
The recruiter interrupted her: “What do you think?” She pressed on, “Oh, and which
shift would you like: 06:00-14:00, 14:00-22:00, or 22:00-06:00?”
Lin was still struggling to adjust to the concept of working at a casino, envisioning
most likely having to wear the overly provocative attire of a casino girl…
“Uh, 6-14 should be good as I still have a young child that needs care,” Lin
The recruiter subsequently asked Lin if she would mind working on the weekends
or would consider the night shift, Lin rejected both notions.
The recruiter finally looked at Lin carefully and asked: “Are you uncomfortable with
working in a casino?” Lin nodded yes. The recruiter sighed, seeming to regret all
the effort she just spent.
Should You Lower Your Expectations
In the final stage, Lin was brought into a room to meet the hiring director. After
an overview from her recruiter, the director told Lin that they did not have any
jobs that would suit her needs. But if Lin lowered her expectations, she could
contact them again. Lin asked if they only had jobs that require shift hours of
work. The director did not give an upfront answer, only reiterated that Lin ought
to lower her expectations, and that she welcomed any future contact. In the end,
they returned the $50 to Lin.
Although Lin didn’t find the perfect job in WCNP, but their training helped
Lin see how the job application works in the U.S. She decided to give it a try
on her own. She rewrites her resume to reflect her interest in entering hotel
management and sent her resume along with a cover letter to all the hotel chains
in Philadelphia. She also followed up each letter with a phone call. Now, Lin has
two interviews scheduled. She’s not certain what the outcome will be but she
feels she’s on the right path to becoming employed by an American company.
You May US had a chance to interview Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, Director of
Outreach and Program Evaluation of WCNP. The interview is as following:
You May: Can you tell us about WCNP’s service mission?
Amanda: WCNP was founded by an Irish immigrant an occupational therapist,
who spoke fluent English. When she first arrived in America, people would say:
“Your English is so good, come be my nanny!” After 30 years in the Philadelphia
area, she found no improvement on the situations and challenges immigrants
were facing, and so she founded WCNP in 2003 to provide vocational assistance
Now, thirty-eight percent of the WCNP’s clientele have university degrees, 30%
have lower than a university education, 8% have an education equivalent to
the grade. The jobs vary from washing dishes to providing domestic services
8 to engineers and doctors. Most of them find entry-level jobs in the field and
advance in 3-5 years.
You May: Can you tell us the rough classification of the recruitment
companies? For example, in the Philadelphia area, what are the top 5
positions? Do they have specific expectations for women?
Amanda: The hiring companies we represent are mainly in the industries of
hotels, manufacturing, retail and healthcare. For job seekers, doing a reality
check is very important. Some jobs might not be available in Philadelphia area,
perhaps it will be more realistic to move to the areas that has the job you are
You May: What are your services to small businesses owner? Have you seen
any women small business owners?
Amanda: In the past few years, the Chinese immigrants who have come to WCNP
have been all small business owners. They came here to attend English and small
business training. Yesterday we just had a Chinese client who graduated from the
GED (General Educational Development). His English was relevantly good, so it
took him 8 months to complete the GED training.
Women make up large number among the small business owners we serve. Since
most of them need to care for their children, they start businesses at home, doing
service businesses such as hairdressing, sewing, catering and the most popular
one – online shops, purchasing items from the U.S. to sell to their own countries.
We provide small business owners with opportunity calls, notifying them of
our training opportunities.
These calls provide a Chinese language option. In
America, doing service is different than in the case of China. If you put money on
the table or speak to the customer while looking at the floor, the customers will
think you are being rude. In our business decode training, we explain these vital
differences to business owners.
You May: What do you think is the key for Chinese immigrants to find job
in the U.S.? What are the biggest challenges for the job-seeking woman
Amanda: We had a customer from South America. He was a lawyer in his
home country; he spoke Spanish. We helped him land a sales potion in a heavy
equipment company. He was asked to be responsible for sales in Latin America
thanks to his language skills. His past experience in law made it easier for him to
make convincing presentation to clients. Soon he was promoted to be the head of
sales in the region. Now he works for Bank of America, enjoying an annual salary
I feel that to keep an open mind, curiosity and flexibility about your job is
very important. Another key is to convert your country’s experience into
American applicable perceptions—how to use your international experience and
relationships to help U.S. employers.
Translated by Crystal Duan