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Eugène van den Hemel

Owner of Heavenly Thoughts, Recruiter who Placed 600+ refugees in Jobs

Who is considered a Refugee?

A refugee is a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war or persecution.

 This person might have been a doctor, a teacher, a developer, a painter, in his/her country of origin.

“You and I are the same, we only have different circumstances and situations.”

Watch the testimony of Ali Barakat


What are the challenges they face?


  • Problem: Employers and hiring managers do not necessarily think of the skills and potential that they have.
  • Solution: Don’t see them as a victim. Listen to their stories. Challenge your preconceptions. Most refugees are looking for work opportunities to learn and grow. Their expectations in the workplace are realistic.

Adapting to a new culture

  • Problem: Some refugees have difficulties integrating in the new society. This may be due to experiencing culture shock and language barriers. 
  • Solution: Be aware of the cultural differences. If needed, explain to them specific culture rituals like you would do new expats arriving to your country. What can you learn from their culture?

No professional network

  • Problem: They may have skills and education but do not have a professional network and do not know how to network.
  • Solution: If you want to find candidates, you have to reach out to them! If you cannot hire them, you can still offer to connect them to job leads within your network. You can mentor them and give them advice on their resume and on their interview skills.

Unrecognized Certifications

  • Problem: Their certifications rarely correspond from their old to their new country (medical, law, etc.)
  • Solution: Whenever possible, look for skills instead of certifications. Consider asking if a traditional degree is really needed for the role, or can someone with a non-traditional background perform the work?

Gap in employment

  • Problem: An unavoidable consequence of abruptly leaving one’s home country is that they likely did not have the legal right to work in the country of relocation.
  • Solution: Understand the Gap. Be considerate of the reasons behind the gap in employment and do not disqualify a candidate and his/her potential due to this.

Compliance Restrictions

  • Problem: Refugees are sometimes not granted the right to work (no working visas). Others could be pending asylum cases that would grant them the right to work.
  • Solution: Understand the Gap. Be considerate of the reasons behind the gap in employment and do not disqualify a candidate and his/her potential due to this.

What are the best practices during an interview?

Make the candidate feel comfortable in the interview. 

Share something about yourself, about your career path; the successes, the mistakes, the doubts and the lessons. Dare to be vulnerable. Ask instead of presuming.

Ask questions you normally ask in a job interview:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • What do you know about our organization?
  • What do you expect of the job?
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • What will you bring us and what do you want we offer you?
  • What do you need to be happy and successful in this job?
  • What do you want to learn here?
  • What can we learn from you?

Refugees may not be entirely familiar with the business culture and have a different approach to participating in a job interview. Take time to inform the candidate of the hiring process for your company and how the interview will work.

Do not ask a refugee why they left their country of origin  as the experience might bring up traumatic memories. Reasons why they left are irrelevant during an interview.


I did not hire the candidate, can I still help?

If you do not hire them, make sure you give them a lot of feedback!

feedback on their CVs, on interview answers, on their body language…

Keep in mind that you are possibly talking to someone who is starting from scratch. 

For you as a hiring manager, this is an opportunity to shine them up, to better prepare them for success and to give them hope..

Consider mentoring them: what should they have said or done differently? 


What are the onboarding best practices?

Customize the onboarding process as if you are hiring someone who is new to the country. Consider providing language training when needed.

Treat them as a professional. Treat them like any other person you would treat.

  • Ask what you can do to help and provide support
  • Plan their onboarding, best practice for all new hires
  • Do follow ups on integration


“When I joined my first company in the new country, I was uncomfortable because colleagues were treating me differently. Not necessarily just by what was said but even by how things were said. I wanted more than anything to be treated like everyone else. Since then, I’ve changed jobs and in my current one, I am treated exactly like everyone else. I do not have additional benefits nor do I have to be reminded every day that I am different.”


Prepared with the help and insight of 2 refugees, 2 subject matter experts, and 2 HR experts
Designed by Isabelle Trad

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