Meet: Miel Geleijns & Khaled Alkabouni

The Refugee Talent Hub constantly interviews partners as well as refugees to hear their stories. Most recently I got the chance to have a cup of coffee with Miel Geleijns, Managing Director of Accenture Strategy in the Netherlands and Khaled Alkabouni, a refugee that has been hired by Accenture two years ago.

Miel Geleijns is 47 years old and has been working with Accenture for just over 3 years, leading the technology – strategy practice. Since a few months he started also looking after communications, media and technology industries within the strategy department.  His background is in strategy consulting and he worked several years as an IT consultant. Khaled Alkabouni is from Damascus, he is 34 years old and studied communication engineering in Jordan for his bachelor and did his master’s here in The Netherlands. In 2015 he started his master’s and he graduated exactly a year later. Only two months after graduating, he started working with Accenture. Recently he has been promoted to the position of consultant at Accenture.

“Hiring refugees serves our own purpose.”

In Miel’s eyes, corporate organizations like Accenture have an obligation in making sure that refugee talents get integrated in the Dutch labor market. “Many people who come to The Netherlands have a relevant educational background and companies like ours should take this opportunity to their advantage. As the saying states we are basically hitting two birds with one stone. I think hiring refugees serves our own purpose and helps people who come here and have difficulties in finding jobs. I believe it would be very good if companies like ourselves would be able to make the connections with refugee talents. My idea of the Refugee Talent Hub is that it should be the mechanism to make this connection between corporates and refugee talents.”

As for how this could be achieved, Miel believes that it’s about both human interactions as well as technology. Khaled: “We should really focus on the purpose and the goal of the Refugee Talent Hub and not on one way of working.” Despite the fact that the means to finding a job differs per country, per company and per person – some general tips can be given.

Get out of your comfort zone

Khaled: “I would say the best tip to find a job is to go out of your comfort zone. Go to as many events as possible, and participate actively in them. This way you can build your network and grow as a person. At the beginning, before getting my master’s, I have tried just sending an application to a job and then following up with a recruiter. Out of my own experience I can tell you: this way does not work.”

Miel agrees: “Go to information sessions, have conversations with people that could inform you about the Dutch corporate lifestyle, inform yourself and build a network. In The Netherlands there’s a loose link between the previous education and current profession, so you will find people that study something and then end up in a completely different job. In other countries this could be perceived differently. The way to getting to know this is to talk to people.”

In Syria we do not write motivation letters

Khaled: “My second tip would be to get a mentor or someone that could help you while applying. There are always a few tweaks that would increase the chances of getting a job. Having a mentor that helps you and trains you in writing your CV and motivation letter could make a huge difference for you. In Syria we do not write motivation letters when applying for a job whilst here it’s quite an important thing to do. When I personally applied for Accenture, I had my motivation letter reviewed not only by my mentor but also by a couple of HR specialists. Ironically, even though I am speaking English at the moment, I genuinely think that knowing the Dutch language is important. Even if you are not good enough to guide meetings in Dutch, you should at least be good enough to read and write emails and documents.”

Find yourself

Miel: “Another piece of advice would be to really find yourself. Find out what you would really like to do. If you are a trained medic, for example, but would like to work in the consulting business because you like to work with people, then this could be completely acceptable here in The Netherland. Since you have been to medical school you have already proven that you have an analytical and intellectual capability which may be a good basis for you to apply for a job.”

Lastly, both  strongly encourage professionals with a refugee background to talk to a lot of people with different careers to see what is important when applying to a job. Miel: “Look for people with a completely different background and connect to them. As Khaled, I would definitely recommend people to go out of their comfort zone.”

Everyone is different in their own way

Miel and Khaled work together on a daily basis. Did they experience any difficulties? Miel: “Everyone is different in their own way. The differences Khaled has were no other than an average employee-to -employee differences. I did not feel as though I had to treat Khaled in a special manner. Yes, sometimes you are likely to encounter differences and you should create some room to anticipate on it. But that is something that you would do with any employee. There are many ways in which people are different.”

Khaled: “I am not a Dutch person so culturally there’s a difference. So I  might have a different life style than others, however, if you look at the generic aspects of the job I am more or less the same as everyone else. In all honesty, I would not have liked working at Accenture if I was treated differently or more special by my colleagues here. I genuinely like feeling equal to my peers whether it’s in responsibilities or any other aspect of the job.  Basically, I enjoy the differences and being different. I do not want to hide who I am and I simply cannot be anyone other than who I truly am. I appreciate that people understand that, and it makes me feel good about myself.”