Q: I live in the Southwest and have encountered the same problems in jobs at two different companies. The first was a call center that preferred to hire bilingual workers, regardless of how poorly they spoke English. When people called in and couldn't understand the Spanish-speaking representatives and asked for someone who could speak English, they would transfer the callers to me. When I came on the line with them, they say they were thrilled to talk to someone who could understand them. But the company continued hiring and paying more to native Spanish-speaking workers over native English-speaking workers, so I left.
I then took a job at a company where all but two employees (an African-American woman and I) were Mexican. Our jobs were to visit stores, community events and staffing booths to sign up new customers for our company's services. They all spoke Spanish when they were in the office, and we knew they were talking about us; they would look at us, roll their eyes and talk in Spanish to each other. The company asked the African-American employee to visit the housing projects to sign up people. She knew they asked her because she was black, so she quit, which left me as the only native English-speaking employee.
The boss called and asked for an employee who wasn't there, so I simply told the boss he wasn't. When the man returned to the office, the other employees told him I had "snitched" on him. Then one of the workers told me he had a criminal record, and he said he would make me "pay for snitching." I was genuinely worried, so I quit that job. I've been working temp jobs, but the problem of being in the minority is the same. Do you have any advice for people caught in this type of situation?
A: Through your work experiences, you now know how terrible discrimination feels. It sounds like researching the company before applying to a job there would help you know more about company culture. When job hunting, you may want to choose companies not predominantly seeking bilingual people. You may also want to broaden your parameters to cover a greater area, even if it means a longer commute.
Your letter was extremely well written. If you are without a degree, you may want to consider enrolling in a certificate program to increase your knowledge and skills so you can apply to jobs in different categories. Most community colleges have job coaches in their admissions or alumni offices who are available to local residents as well as graduates. A career coach can review your resume and skills and suggest various ways for you to lift yourself into a wider range of possible positions and improve your job environment. The fix could be a simple resume rewrite, or assessment testing to help you recognize the abilities you haven't yet discovered or used.
Look for ways to expand your reach and your experience so you can apply to higher-level jobs. Sometimes, people fear applying to positions outside their comfort zone while they are very capable of working at a greater skill capacity.
Underemployment is sometimes the result of a lack of confidence or lack of skills, but these can be increased through short-term courses and programs. Of course, a more extreme solution may be for you to take a bigger risk by thinking outside the box and moving to a location where you will have greater access to larger corporations with more diverse jobs. But don't despair or resign yourself to always being disappointed in your workplace. There are many opportunities out there. You may just need a push to that realization. A good career coach can show you a new way of viewing your potential and your value in the work force.
Email your workplace issues and experiences to [email protected] For more information about career and life coach Lindsey Novak, visit www.lindseyparkernovak.com, and for past columns, see www.creators.com/read/at-work-lindsey-novak.