Hack the hiring process to recruit tech talent in refugee circumstances

A new ‘Guide on Redesigning the Tech Hiring Process to Include Displaced Talent’ is a collaboration by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Refugee Action Hub, Na’amal, TalentLift, the Tent Partnership for Refugees, and World Education Services, with sponsorship by World Education Services.

Download the guide. 

The tech sector needs talent, and people living and working in tech within refugee populations need livelihood opportunities. This guide of practical ideas aims to help teams design their hiring process to more successfully recruit displaced talent. 

The talent gap across the tech industry and other industries recruiting for tech is significant. As a Forbes writer quipped, “the pandemic transformed nearly every organization into a tech company.” Canadian companies face a shortage of 200,000 software developers. Nearly 80% of CEOs in the United States are concerned about filling tech roles, and it’s projected to get worse. 

Meanwhile, there are immensely talented people working or trying to work in tech, who are living in refugee and displaced populations around the world, searching for international jobs. They keenly want a place in the talent pipeline. 

Work conditions can be extremely difficult in the countries where they live. Many work for lower pay and longer hours than their non-refugee peers, without job security, and without work rights and other legal protection to rely on. Life at home can be highly stressful because of low incomes and fearing for the safety, health or future prospects of loved ones. Despite all this, people find ways to grow their skills, continue learning, undertake passion projects, and look for new opportunities. Their accomplishments in these circumstances show remarkable perseverance, ingenuity, creativity, and drive. 

Pioneering companies are sourcing displaced tech talent as part of their talent acquisition strategies, in recognition of the human potential and the transformative impact of extending a job opportunity in Canada or beyond to someone who’s living displaced. The Tech Talent Welcome Council network of companies across Canada is one example of this growing community. 

As more teams explore this underleveraged talent pool, they may find a design opportunity: Recruitment processes can be adjusted to recognize and overcome some of the challenges facing qualified candidates that are unique to their displaced circumstances. For example, candidates may be unfamiliar with interview formats, and can face cultural differences in representing their experience or their interest in the company. Employers can be unfamiliar with how domestic interviewing norms differ from international ones, lack the flexibility to accommodate scheduling and connectivity challenges, and screen for particular skills that are uncommon in other markets such as software testing automation. 

This guide presents some of the challenges experienced by teams and candidates during the hiring process, and ideas to overcome them. The ideas range from smaller tweaks to larger redesigns towards a more inclusive hiring process. 

The insights and ideas are drawn from a co-design workshop series in September 2021. The workshop convened six tech hiring teams across Canada, candidates who are currently living displaced, and supporting non-profit or training organizations with a goal to explore practical ways to better bridge job and relocation opportunities and the unique circumstances of displaced job seekers.

Why hire displaced tech talent? 

  • Access an underleveraged candidate pool with in-demand tech skills and high potential 
  • Gain knowledge and experience of different cultures, regions, and socio-economic circumstances that will expand diversity of thought on the team
  • Gain creative, agile problem-solvers who have remarkable perseverance and determination
  • Engage your team in a transformative change for peers in refugee or displaced circumstances, and in enriching community-building when new hires can relocate alongside their families from displacement

Excerpts from the ‘Guide on Redesigning the Tech Hiring Process to Include Displaced Talent.’

How hiring teams in Canada can support displaced Afghans


More than 2.6 million Afghans have left the country in search of refuge and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) expects this number to grow in the coming months. Many of those who are in refugee circumstances in neighbouring countries are professionals, tradespeople, recent graduates, or parents, all eager for an opportunity to put their skills to use and contribute in a new home community.

Hiring teams across Canada can be part of the solution by extending job and skilled visa opportunities to talented Afghans and others displaced by conflict or persecution globally.

We and our partners at Lifeline Afghanistan, a non-partisan network of individuals and organizations responding to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, hosted a webinar for hiring teams and other community members to learn how recruitment and relocation from within the displaced talent pool works. 

This unique form of recruitment, supported by the Canadian government and UNHCR through the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot, is a solution to both skills shortages and displacement. It’s a brilliant way to find talent while helping candidates and their families to relocate from displacement. Skilled immigration is additional and complementary to humanitarian resettlement and is a much-needed mobility option for those who can and want to use their professional skills to relocate.

The webinar recording is available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/SrQC2Ma9QGk  

We urge you to watch and consider these actions: 

  1. If you’re part of a team, start hiring with TalentLift.
  2. If you know Afghans who are displaced outside Afghanistan, job-ready and searching for a mobility solution, invite them to seek a job by joining TalentLift.
  3. If you want to engage another way, join Lifeline Afghanistan efforts to support private sponsorship of refugees.

You can also share the webinar recording with colleagues, friends or family and encourage these actions by others.

With the support of the Scotiabank ScotiaRISE initiative, TalentLift has built a talent platform for displaced job seekers to self-register, develop job-readiness, and connect to transformative job and relocation opportunities to Canada. Learn more