“It’s the Little Things that Mean A Lot” – Keiko’s Story
Nine years ago, Keiko moved to Vermont and began working as a bookkeeper in Richmond one day a week. While she liked the position, the hours were not enough for Keiko to earn a livable wage. “I wanted to work more,” she says, “I was looking for a new job for a long time, but I couldn’t find one.”
Keiko considers Japanese her dominant language, and while searching for a job, Keiko noticed her English proficiency was preventing her from connecting with and gaining trust of potential employers. She began to doubt her capabilities, “I thought something was wrong with me because my English was a problem.” In 2017, Keiko visited the Vermont Department of Labor to seek assistance in finding a new job. It was here that she met Heather Newcomb, the Step In To Work Program Manager at Vermont Works for Women (VWW). Heather connected Keiko with Step In To Work (SITW), a work-readiness program at VWW that helps women find meaningful work.
Language proficiency can be a significant employment barrier for non-native English speakers. To be taken seriously, resumes and cover letters must be free of grammatical errors. For Keiko, this prevented her from adequately showcasing her willingness to work hard and learn new skills. “I didn’t have many choices,” she recalls, “I had to take the once-a-week job, even though I wanted to work more than one day a week.”
“Often, the skills you need to find a job are not necessarily the skills you need for the job,” says Rachel Kauppila, Job Developer at VWW. This is particularly true for Keiko, who had experience in accounting, spreadsheets, and database management, but found it difficult to communicate her accomplishments during the job search process. “[Keiko has] a lot of strengths, but with the lack of confidence in her language, she had a hard time putting herself out there to get a job,” Rachel says.
VWW offered Keiko individualized one-on-one job placement coaching, including resume and cover letter assistance, as well as interview preparation and confidence-building activities. “Rachel helped me talk about my skills in a more confident way,” says Keiko, “She helped me write a resume and a cover letter, and she also gave me interview lessons. That was helpful because I’m not from this country, so it helped a lot.”
Additionally, Rachel attended an interview with Keiko to ensure the hiring manager fully understood Keiko’s competence for the position. “There are many little things [VWW did] that meant a lot for me.” Most importantly, says Keiko, VWW helped her recognize the importance of persistence. “Keep trying,” she says, “even if it doesn’t work out with one company, I shouldn’t give up.”
Currently, Keiko is filling in for a temporary position at Vermont Federal Credit Union. She started with three shifts per week, but she has recently been offered an additional shift. She says she’s still working on building her confidence, but she enjoys her position and the added responsibilities. “I used to only work one day a week as a bookkeeper, now I’m responsible for doing payroll for the whole staff. That’s a big change.”