Helping Skilled Immigrants and Refugees Transition to Jobs: Part 2, Creating a New Curriculum

By Dr. Ed Morton
Transition to Jobs Volunteer Instructor and Coach, Pima Community College

The Transition to Jobs class has allowed three volunteers—Dr. Ginny Lewis, Carroll Reitz, and myself—to come together to lead and create a new curriculum for the professional immigrants and refugees who have selected Pima Community College (PCC) for their introduction to career development in the United States.  We brought together an amalgam of training, skills and experience in high school, university teaching, and career development in a university setting.

PCC offers four 6 to 10-week sessions (one per academic quarter) of Transitions to Jobs, a free noncredit program for highly skilled, work authorized immigrants and refugees who are at intermediate or higher levels of English speaking, reading, and writing skills. Most participants are already PCC students, and many have been recruited from ESL classes and by word of mouth. Classes are on Fridays so they will not conflict with Monday-Thursday ESL classes. Classes meet on the noncredit side of the college, which is home to the Refugee Education Program and convenient to a large number of immigrants in ESL classes.

The first unit provides a welcome, overview of the class, and an introduction to the numerous cultural differences related to seeking a career in the United States. As noted in the previous blog, foreign professionals, despite their formal education, often find marketing of self, cultural behavior, and American idiosyncrasies different from what they are used to in their respective cultures.

Developing “Elevator Speeches” Helps with Career Goals and Speaking Skills
In addition, we immediately begin the process of having them develop their “elevator speeches,” which they use to introduce themselves in the first class and every class thereafter. We chose to do this because students need to begin the process of determining what it is they offer a prospective employer.  They also need to learn to be prepared to present this 30 to 60 second introduction of their professional strengths whenever the opportunity arises.  They memorize the elevator speech so that it flows naturally.  It also serves as an excellent answer to what is often the first question in an interview: “Tell us about yourself.” From the speech, students start to develop their resumes.  We find the elevator speech is an opportunity for students to improve their pronunciation, enunciation, and general English speaking skills. All students we have worked with so far expressed that improving their English speaking skills was one of their highest priorities. This process creates a relaxed environment while also helping students improve public speaking confidence and abilities.

Practicing Job Search and Interviewing Skills
In the third class, we are working on job search strategies in the United States including: networking, job fairs, online job boards, internships, etc. We use job search engines such as and have each student find a job that they may be interested in applying for. Their resume is then built on the job description and we teach students how use phrases and word their qualifications and experience in a way that directly addresses the qualifications being sought. We also teach and encourage students to create LinkedIn profiles and join groups on LinkedIn for job seekers and in their areas of interest and expertise. Week four we focus on resumes, with the expectation that resumes will be presented in the following class. Next, we tackle communication skills including how to “work a room,” making eye contact, and developing general conversation skills. By week seven, we have introduced cover letters and thank you notes and how the internet has altered these elements. The final two weeks cover interview skills and practice. Each student is interviewed on at least two occasions.  For the final interview students are expected to come dressed and prepared for a formal business interview.

“Interviewing for a job can be a huge source of stress and anxiety, and for me, a non-native English speaker, this stress can be even higher, notes Arnaud Davy, a past program participant. “The Transition to Jobs program was so helpful for me. We worked on the most common interviewing questions and practiced how to answer them. I also learned some basic information on how to get started creating my own answers. Moreover, we reviewed my cover letter. Now, I possess strong interviewing skills that will make me stand out from the crowd. So, I strongly believe that I will make a stellar impression at any job interview.”

Each class period has an organization that students can expect. Elevator speeches are at the beginning, followed by introductory elements for the career topic of the week.  The class concludes with small group interaction.  The instructors also identify online resources related to the classrooms topic of the day.  Students are expected to read the resources online before class and come prepared to ask questions or discuss what they read.  A Student Guide, including the weekly topics, resources and expectations, is provided to each student. The Student Guide includes handouts such as this one from the US Berkley Career Center comparing a US resume to a non US resume

Flexible class schedules
Class times are based on student focus group feedback to avoid conflicts with ESL classes that some participants attend. As the class schedule can vary throughout the year, the course outline is adjusted as necessary, ranging from 6 to 10 weeks.  Also, since the students are often the head of a family, and have jobs and other outside responsibilities, their attendance is not always consistent. The availability of the Student Guide helps students keep up with assignments.

The curriculum and the schedule are ever changing with the needs of individual student and the instructional goals of the volunteer instructors.


Yudelkis Oliva, Transition to Jobs student from Cuba

When I joined the Transition to Jobs class I didn’t know how to do an interview or to build a resume because everything was new to me. These classes were a great opportunity to learn all about the process of getting a job in the USA. Now, I’m working in a job that allows me to improve my English language skills, and I’m taking English classes before applying for a position that is in line with my degree.


Dr. Ed Morton is a retired professor, business owner and director of career services.

Please share your comments @CCCIE or success stories in a short paragraph description on Facebook. Let us know why it was a success. Is your college helping individuals develop their elevator speeches, and practice job search and interviewing skills? Do employers in your area help you prepare skilled immigrants for jobs by doing mock interviews or providing feedback on resumes? We’d like to hear from you!

Next in this blog series: How participants connect with their desired fields and gain U.S. work experience through volunteering