work

There are two questions I am always asked:

Is it easy to get a job in Norway?

Is it hard to get a job in Norway?

The only definite answer is: ‘it depends’.  It depends on your education.  It depends on your profession.  It depends on your Norwegian language skills.  And, it depends on your luck.  There is no easy answer but what I can tell you is that there are also no shortcuts.

Why do people want to work in Norway?
There are generally two reasons why people choose Norway for work: money and ‘experience’.  Norway boasts high wages and good work conditions.  With five weeks paid holiday, maternity leave, and a socially conscious paternity leave, Norway has you working less for more pay.  However, people often forget to consider that everything is relative – you get what you paid for!  High wages incurs a higher tax (average 36%), much higher living costs, and excessive prices on luxury items such as cars.  When people work in Norway for ‘experience’ it certainly isn’t work related but the prestige of ‘experiencing’ Norway – culture, people, environment etc.  This ‘experience’ can be very highly considered around the world.  However, (as there are always ‘howevers’) the ‘experience’ can often be more difficult than first imagined.

How to get a job in Norway
Just like any other country, you’d look at job websites, international or national companies with job postings in Norway, search the national job centre database, go to recruitment fairs, look in the newspaper, and listen out for ‘word-of-mouth’ opportunities (which is very hard to do if you don’t live in Norway or speak Norwegian).

The easiest way to get a job in Norway is to be ‘poached’.  Norwegian companies (even government run) have a habit of approaching people privately and asking them to apply for open positions.  This, of course, requires you to be known, and, of course, this requires you to already be either working in Norway or being associated with a Norwegian.  However, to be ‘poached’ you need to be one of the best in your field.

Being in a profession high in demand is always a benefit to obtaining work in Norway.  The health, oil (engineering), hospitality, education, business and information technology industries are always good employers of non-Norwegians.

Formal education is very important for work in Norway.  It is hard to get an average job without a Bachelor’s degree.  It is hard to get a good paying job without a Master’s degree.  This is because it is so easy to get educated in Norway (as all education is free) and therefore you have to compete with Norwegians who are highly educated.

The easiest way to look for a job in Norway is via the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV.no).  This is because every weekday they collect all the new job openings from newspapers, job-boards and websites from around the country and post them on their own job seeking database.  Looking through the NAV database will tell you a lot about the Norwegian job market.

A view of the Norwegian job market:

First of all you will notice that about 90% of information on the NAV website is in Norwegian.  Its job search database is only in Norwegian.  This gives you a good idea of what Norwegian employers are looking for – workers who are competent with the Norwegian language.

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Secondly, what seems like a lot of jobs available on your initial search will divide quickly on refining.  When you begin to search for counties and then cities you will quickly notice the limited amount of jobs in each area.  It is common for some cities to have less than 20 job positions posted each day.  This is because the Norwegian population isn’t clustered into cities but scattered over the entire country – it makes a thin spread with a population of only 4.5 mil.  Below is a screen-shot of the jobs available in Tromsø, the biggest city in the North of Norway, on 14th October 2009:

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Click on the image to enlarge.

Search: jobs in Tromsø, all categories.

You will notice that there are only 16 job openings in total for the whole city.  Slim pickings.  There are two doctor jobs (lege), four jobs working with the handicapped (miljøterapeut), a dentist (tannleger), a teacher (lærer), a hairdresser (frisør), a prison warden (fengselsleder), a child counsellor (pedagogisk rågiver) etc.  You will also notice that they all require Norwegian language – the dead giveaway is that they are posted in Norwegian.

You will also notice the number ’129′ at the top of the search page.  That is the total number of jobs with open positions in Tromsø.

Lets have a look at English speaking job openings:

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Click on the image to enlarge.

Search: jobs in Norway, all categories, tag: “english”.

Firstly, at the top, you will notice that there are only 103 jobs in the whole country that requires English language (and with some jobs this is in addition to knowing Norwegian).  There are only seven new job openings for 14th October 2009 – for the whole country.  Reading the job titles you’ll notice that there are mainly technical or management positions available.  In general, most of the English speaking jobs in Norway are in the oil and shipping industries.  There are also a lot of PhD University job openings advertised before the start of semesters.  Scientific/Research jobs are also common.  And occasionally there are chef, childcare and TEFL jobs.

Statistics say up to 50% of jobs in Norway are not advertised.  Promotion, poaching and word-of-mouth is the norm.  Therefore the best way to get a job in Norway is to live in Norway, be educated, speak the language and have a good network.

How to really get a job in Norway

As above, the best way to get a job in Norway is to live in Norway, be educated, speak the language and have a good network.

Living in Norway
Employers like to hire one to three months before a job starts.  This is because most job contracts require an employee to give up to three months notice.  Also, by law, there is a three month probation period, both for the employee and employer.  If things don’t work out then each party can decide to let the other one go with little fuss.  After three months it gets more complicated.  All this ‘procedure’ can make getting a job difficult for non-Norwegians living abroad.

Immigration laws can also make job hunting in Norway difficult.  If you don’t have the right visa or residency permit then applying for a job, or an employer hiring you, can be illegal.  To get a job in Norway you need to follow immigration laws otherwise you will make a very bad impression.

However, it is ten times harder to get a job in Norway from outside the country.  Norway prefers to employ Norwegians first – it is easier, quicker and cheaper.  So to be more employable you need to make it as easy, quick and cheap for your potential employer.  Norwegians don’t like problems, (they especially don’t like listening to them) so if you want to work in Norway then make sure you have the means, determination and no problems, before you start applying.  You don’t want egg on your face when your potential employer asks you how you plan to make Norway your home.

Be Educated
Norwegians are highly educated.  Most jobs for English speakers require at least a Bachelors degree – a Masters degree is better.  However, professional experience does count but proof is essential – results are very important to Employers.  Being able to name accomplishments, especially with notable organisations, is highly regarded.  A strong social conscience is highly valued, as is equality, especially for women’s rights, minority inclusion and accessibility for the mentally or physically challenged.  In fact, every Norwegian Bachelor degree has a core philosophy subject requirement.  Norway has a reputation of being a Socialist country and therefore you are expected to sympathise.

Speak the Language
It can be difficult to get any job without Norwegian language.  If an English speaker gets a job, usually part of their contract includes learning Norwegian within three years.  This is more difficult than first thought.  Even though Norway is a country full of Norwegian speakers, they all speak English to English speakers.  This can make it impossible to learn Norwegian.  Your employer is likely to send you to Norwegian language classes in your own time.  After the course you are expected to read, write and speak Norwegian at high school level.  However, employer expectations are impractical.  No matter how much time you spend in Norwegian classes you cannot learn to speak the language properly unless you have at least 10 hours of Norwegian conversation (outside of class) a week.  In comparison, Norwegians sometimes forget that it takes them eight years of English language classes and a lifetime of English speaking TV programs, music and internet just to speak English ‘ok’.

The major reason for the Norwegian language requirement for employment is that Norwegian immigration requires at least 300 hours of Norwegian language classes for Settlement.  The Norwegian Immigration Authority sees employment of immigrants in Norway as a first step to (eventual) citizenship.

However, once you can speak Norwegian fluently, a whole world of opportunities open up for you in Norway.

A Good Network
It is vitally important that once you are in Norway, working or not, you build a network.  Make yourself known in your industry.  Go to meetings, conventions, seminars, open days – anything that can look good on your resume or get you good contacts.  As mentioned above, up to 50% of jobs are word-of-mouth, so if you aren’t talking with people you cannot hear what is going round.  Norwegians value works in the community especially for youth and disadvantaged peoples.  Being involved with community organisations will certainly impress employers – even your kids play-group can help.  If you get involved, you are bound to get more opportunities.  It will take a little time but because Norwegian communities are very small (and tight) somebody always knows somebody, who knows somebody, who has a job opening.

Getting Work as an ‘Immigrant’
If you have come to Norway to work and/or live you are labelled as an ‘immigrant’.  ’Immigrants’ are seen as people who enter the country just to sponge off the welfare system etc.  This stigma can sometimes hurt your job seeking.  Norwegian employers are very aware of the ‘immigrant’.  However, you can get past this label just by your attitude.

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There are not many jobs for immigrants without an education.  The jobs that require no education are generally reserved for youth (as they are cheap labour).  You cannot have normal/average/working class jobs in Norway without Norwegian language: no office jobs, no media jobs, no retail jobs, no real estate jobs, no waitress jobs, no security jobs, no bus driver jobs, no social work jobs etc.  There are actually only two types of jobs you can get as an immigrant without Norwegian language – high-end or low-end.  High-end jobs are the educated jobs spoken about above.  Low-end jobs are those that are in such high demand (and teenagers don’t want them) that they will employ anyone who wants the job.  Low-end jobs also mean low-end pay which is usually on the poverty line.  These jobs include cleaning, house keeping, being an au pair, kitchen hand, daycare assistants and a range of seasonal farmhands such as fish gutters, berry pickers etc.  However, most of these positions still do require you to have the level three Norwegian language certificate.

My Personal Experience

I’ve seen many of my immigrant friends broken because they cannot get a job.  Some have had to become cleaners or child care assistants even though they have a university degree and a successful career in their home country.  Not feeling good about your work will greatly affect your longevity in Norway.  Many ‘qualified’ immigrants return to their home country beaten, jobless and in a great amount of debt.  I thought my personal experience might give you a good taste of what job seeking and work can be like in Norway as an ‘immigrant’ with education and no language.

A bit of background: I have a degree and a couple of postgraduate diplomas – all in dramatic arts and media.  I also have experience and general qualifications in the hospitality industry.  Education and 20 years experience in dancing.  All my education has been obtained in English speaking countries.

When I first came to Norway I couldn’t work for over eight months as I was waiting for my residency permit application to be approved.  I was sponging off Moose for this time…lol.  As soon as I was able to, I applied for a couple of jobs in my field of work.  The employers were very excited about my qualifications and education but as soon as they found out I couldn’t speak Norwegian they turned me down.  I applied for a similar job in another city and got it – in my contract it said I had to learn Norwegian.  Moose had to quit his job (as I’d be making more than him) and we had to move to a small town in the middle of the country.  This made it hard for Moose to find a job.  Even though he IS Norwegian and speaks the language, smaller cities don’t have very many jobs available.  It is very usual to have to move from city to city for jobs in Norway – but it is even more usual for one partner to have to give up a lesser paying job for the other partner.  It is a sacrifice that is necessary to be together in the same city.  Eventually Moose got a job in media.  I worked and did one night a week of Norwegian classes but I wasn’t learning anything.  After all that, we decided to move to London for Moose to study.  More sacrifices.  We both quit our jobs (and our lovely pay) to live like students in London.

In London, I worked as a Chef at a pub and restaurant – using my cookery trade education and gained some more qualifications while there.  Moose put his Norwegian language to good use and worked part-time as a translator.  Then a year later we moved back to Norway because we were expecting our first child together.  (We wanted Lilu to be Norwegian.)  I was ‘unemployable’ being pregnant but I also couldn’t get maternity leave because I hadn’t been employed in Norway the year leading up to the pregnancy (as we were in London).  So Moose studied and worked.

Before having the baby I did three months of full-time Norwegian language.  After having the baby, I applied for a part-time job as a Chef.  I didn’t get the job (because… well, a lot of their questions were about me doing my job as a new mother).  Not wanting a full-time job, I started freelancing as a dance teacher.  I also became very active in the dance community.  I became a producer of a festival because of my willingness to get involved, I participated in the film industry and also studied part-time at the university.  Through my contacts I have been offered numerous jobs in dance and have also been offered a couple of full-time arts jobs – despite me not knowing Norwegian.  However, I do live in a small city so I will likely have to create my own work.  (I’m not ready to work full-time yet as I have just had another baby) but in the future I know that my connections will make it a lot easier for me to get a job instead of having to ‘rely on the kindness of strangers’.  I am extremely aware that if I learn Norwegian it will make things 1000 times easier for me to get a good job.

The most important thing to learn from my experience:
Have a couple of things you can fall back on – a trade, a hobby or an education – so you can work as a freelancer or develop a small business.

So… what do you think – is it easy to get a job in Norway, or is it hard?  Feel free to give advice, ask questions or share experiences in the comment section below so we can all help each other make a Norwegian life easier.

Watch out for these posts: Finding a Job on NAV: Tutorial and Making Work in Norway: Selfemployment