Zahi Khouri Fellow Michelle provides one-on-one interview coaching to one of her student's at Najah University The Core Competency class, part of the Student Training and Employment Program (STEP!) sponsored by the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation, is now halfway through its summer course at An-Najah University. Having gotten to know our students over the course of the first weeks, the challenges they face as they try to enter the job market have been made real to us. Obstacles range from a lack of opportunity to gain experience, to a lack of jobs themselves. In many respects these challenges are universal in nature, shared by students worldwide. In Palestine, however, these difficulties are complicated further by both the regional balance of power, and local customs and traditions that place different societal expectations on men and women.

One of the main challenges Palestinian university students face, more specifically female students, are the restrictions of gender roles. While discussing Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk titled Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are, the topic of gender stereotypes was addressed. During her talk, Cuddy states that men traditionally tend to feel assertive while women feel less powerful. When the students were asked why this statement about women and men holds true, they all unanimously agreed that society greatly affects the ways that women and men perceive themselves. In a patriarchal society where most women are expected to take on the traditional roles of wife and mother, too many women lack the confidence needed to excel in education and find employment. However, Amy Cuddy’s advice to use high-power ‘poses’ to improve your confidence and belief in oneself, and to ‘fake it until you become it’ can help female Palestinian university students gain the confidence they need to advance themselves and their careers.

Many students felt the task of describing previous work experience daunting. They offered up statements like ‘But I have no experience!’ or ‘I am just a student!’ After some discussion, we came to find students did have experience, but were not equipped with the necessary skills to describe what they had done in a manner appropriate for CVs. Students had helped to lead courses at the University relating to their subject matter, volunteered at projects in their community (including TYO!), and brought students together outside of the University for common purposes. The difficulty for students lay in being able to translate their activities and skills into concrete work experience on paper. In Palestine, teachers focus on teaching the theoretical concepts of writing whilst neglecting the practical aspects, which explained why some students seemed at a loss when it came to writing about themselves. We found that with a little coaching, students were better able to convert their background into a CV of professional standards.

In our first sessions, students attempted to set career goals with a personal action plan to work out where they want to be and most crucially, how they are going to get there. In just a few short weeks, dozens of students have made progress in preparing themselves to step out into a competitive job market and conquer the high rate of unemployment in Palestine. One student said, ‘I can make myself the person that I want to be.’ Now equipped with employability skills and a newfound sense of self-confidence, STEP! has rooted students’ determination in practical ways to help make their goals a reality.

-TYO Interns, Yvonne, Amanda, and Dari and Zahi Khouri Fellow, Michelle

This program – as part of Student Training and Employment Program (STEP!) – is funded by the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.