“Focus on the person”: quick-fire questions with a refugee mentor

Nick Barniville explains that career mentorship should be the focus, not the refugee's status

The displacement of people due to conflict and other factors continues and provides an opportunity for employers to support this group with employment and broaden their talent pipeline in the process.

DiversityQ spoke to Nick Barniville, Director EdTech Lab at business school ESMT Berlin. He is involved with BeginnerLuft, a German organisation that helps refugees secure employment.

Here, he shares some starter tips on career mentorship for refugees, maximising their chances of getting hired, and why the focus for mentors should be on career building, and not their refugee status.

What tips do you give refugees about increasing their chances of employment?

My first piece of advice would be to weigh up what is the ideal position that they are looking for with what is realistic and achievable in the first step.

Building a career is a long term process, and while everyone will have their dream job, it might not be realistic in the first step, or even the best outcome in terms of securing long-term residency, if this is the goal.

The second thing is to prepare, prepare, prepare. There is never any point in coming second in a job application. The quality of the application is extremely important. I don’t believe there is any difference here in whether someone is from a professional background or not.

The third thing is to focus on what value the applicant can bring to the employer and make sure that this forms the main part of the story. Learning the language is also crucial, but too obvious to put as a top-three tip.

How do you ensure that you are an effective mentor to this group of job-seekers?

Every mentorship opportunity has its own challenges and rewards. For me, the most important thing is to move quickly beyond the residency status and focus on the person.

Obviously, there is an underlying story behind why the person is in the mentorship programme in the first place and why they had to flee, and this may require the empathy and patience radars to be particularly alert, but overall, the focus is on helping an individual to build a career, just like other career mentorships.

How and when should refugees reveal their identity during the job application process?

I think it’s important that everyone is authentic in any application process, but unless there is a specific, relevant issue, such as a potential delay in receiving papers entitling the candidate to work, then there is no need to discuss refugee status at all in my view. But that’s up to the individual. I certainly never felt I had any right to ask a mentee about their background story unless it was relevant to their job application.

Tell me about your experience with your first mentee, and what you learned in terms of using a refugee’s professional profile to maximise their chances of employment?

I had a great experience with my first mentee. He was originally from Iraq and a very sporty guy. His dream job was to work as a tennis coach, but it was proving difficult for him to find a full-time employment contract which he needed to secure the right to remain in Germany.

We went through his other experiences and noticed that he had spent several years working as an air-conditioning and refrigeration technician before coming to Germany, and discussed whether it would make more sense to focus on this area first while building up a portfolio of freelance clients as a tennis coach.

Once he decided on this strategy, it took a very short time for him to secure the job offer that he needed and he was on his way.

More information about BeginnerLuft can be found here.

Rate This: