Yes, it is hard to get a job in Norway, even for Norwegians. Unemployment stats are unreliable. In Norway at the moment the unemployment rate is 3.6%. That sounds pretty good but just in the last three months 11,000 Norwegian residents have become unemployed. The reasoning for this first slump in a two year employment growth is that 14,000 people turned 15 and made the cut to become a statistic.
Another thing to consider when looking at government stats about employment is that they include any percentage of employment as being ‘employed’. So say a person is employed in a 20% position they are numbered with the ‘employed’. It would be more valuable to see the stats on how many people in Norway have full time positions. But they don’t publish those – I wonder why? (wink, wink)
Why is it so hard to get a job in Norway?
Southern Europe competition
At the moment there is increased competition on jobs. Since the financial problems of Southern Europe, more people from the south are trying to find jobs in Norway. You’d think that this would excite employers to get the best employees in Europe working for them but, in fact, employers are battening down the hatches. Southern Europeans are seeking jobs were there are no jobs and this makes Norwegian employers withdraw for the job market game.
Norway is over educated. It is hard these days for Norwegians to get full time employment. Businesses have realised that it is cheaper employing part time people to keep the ship a float. This means Norwegians tend to take further studies with a part time job to increase their opportunities of securing a management position with a full time load. I have seen master educated people apply for simple part time secretary jobs. Just last year the Høgskole in Finnmark needed a part time receptionist and out of the 34 people that applied for the job (from all around the country) there where five people with master degrees and a handful that had at least two degrees. A person with a Master degree and 20 years experience who lived in the area and spoke native Norwegian got the job.
Employing friends and family
Norway has grown up with the tradition of helping out your neighbour. They understand that in order for small communities to survive everyone needs a job. There is no need to look outside the community for an employee as there is always someone in need of employment in their own backyard. Because of this mentality communities have survived but also unqualified people have gained employment just because they where an uncle, a daughter or a cousin. The government has put measures in to try and curve this way of employing people but it is very hard to break old habits. I have seen highly qualified people miss out on jobs because the employer has hired his fishing buddy instead. I have seen people get hired in teaching positions because they were a brother or long time friend of another teacher at the school. I have also seen a retired UN politician hired as a maths and science teacher with no specific background in maths or science teaching who was flown up every week from the south of the country to teach in the North. Norwegians hire who they know. They hire people with history in the community. This may seem unfair but it is very wise for the survival of the community. Why hire in a stranger who has never lived in an Arctic climate with two months of no sun, no family roots and doesn’t speak a word of Norwegian? The chances of that person staying and making a life in the Arctic community is very slim. Most only last a year and then go south for other opportunities or leave Norway altogether. Having roots, history and connections in the community proves you worthy of employment.
When summer comes there is a big change over of employees. People move, change jobs, have babies and go back study. Employers have to guestimate what there employees will be doing and then prepare. For example, if an employee is pregnant or coming up to retirement age the employer has to project their employment for the next year – the employees might take time off, leave or stay in their position, depending on personal circumstance. So to prepare, employers go fishing. You’ll find from March into spring there are a lot of job offers in newspapers and on the internet. A fair amount of these job offers are not serious or are pending. For example, a school might advertise for teachers in all fields. They do not know what teachers they will need, it depends on how many pupils, classes, subject choices, retirements, leaves, etc, there will be for the next year so they advertise generally. Later on, around May, the school has a better idea of what they need and then take action. Sometimes schools just fish with no intention of catching anything.
Another example are tourist operators such as museums where they want speakers of other languages. During the summer they usually have summer employees who return every year to work for six weeks on their university break. A museum might advertise for many people in all languages but in fact they already have most positions filled from the year before and just hoping to get one or two extra part timers.
It has been said so many times that you need to know Norwegian to be eligible for most jobs in Norway, even if it specifically says it is an English speaking job. For example, if you apply for an English language teaching position at a community college, you will still need to speak Norwegian in staff meetings, etc. It is so you can participate in work all activities, not just the English language ones. The other reason is that a lot of Norwegians don’t know English well enough. It is believed that Norwegians are good at English, (since they have so many years of English language study at school), but in actuality they are better listeners of English than speakers. When Norwegians are not confident with something they don’t want to do it. It is understandable. Even though you might apply for a position that specifically says you need to have good English skills, employers have to think about their other Norwegian employees who will be excluded if the workplace turns into a bilingual environment. You also get a handful of language purists, generally from 40 years and older, who do not tolerate English in the workplace. However, the rising generation is very accepting of English and there will likely be a shift for workplaces to become bilingual.
Unemployment and Misrepresentation
It is harder to get a job if you don’t already have a job. Norwegian employers like people who are employed, even if it is just part time. Some employment is better than no employment. Employers like Norwegian history and Norwegian references. It is highly unlikely that a Norwegian employer would want to call up your employer in the last country you worked and ask about your employment history. Something that is in the too hard basket for a Norwegian means you might not make it to interview. But also, international references, employment history and experiences can be fabricated. I have heard of a couple of cases locally where employers found out their international employees lied on their resume (after working for some time) and had to commission the municipality to get them sacked. Municipalities hold true to not sacking any of their employees so having to do so is a serious matter. This bad experience of employing international workers has spread through the counties. A couple of times a year I am reminded by different employees about the time my workplace had to commission the municipality to sack a fellow employee for fraud.
Remember, it ain’t all bad!
No matter how qualified you are, how much education you have or how experienced you are, getting a job in Norway is often a matter of being in the right pace at the right time. I have known a lot of immigrants who are highly valued in their home country but who cannot get a job in Norway. They know that what they have to give is good and important but Norway just cannot see it. There are two things you can do: wait for luck to come by chance or to the play the game and pay your dues.
Playing the Game
Playing that game is about being smart. Do your research. Study employment statistics, read the paper and get connections. Test run your CVs – don’t do one, have many. Send them to anyone who is advertising any position to see what response you get. And I mean every job – cook, waiter, child care, marketing, media, construction etc, that you could reasonably go for. Remember a CV and coverletter is designed to get you an interview. If you don’t get an interview after ten times then your CV and coverletter isn’t doing its job. Take your CV to an employment specialist or just re-write it and send it out again – even to the same employer. If you get a lot of interviews, great! Use them as practice. It doesn’t matter what you are interviewing for – a cooks job, a childcare worker, in advertising, media, whatever – see it as field research and practice your interviewing and Norwegian skills. You don’t have to take the job, just go to the interview and you’ll certainly learn what Norwegian employers are looking for in a employee. Then you will be prepared for when your dream job comes up.
Paying your Dues
Paying your dues is about creating a history, a life and a sure thing for employers. Do things in the community that will get you noticed. Volunteer on festivals or sporting events to meet people. Arrange a course, open an art exhibition, go to community seminars – whatever your talents are. Get involved. Norwegians like a person who does things for their community. It is important in Norway, especially in small communities, to be known and for your employer to have heard of you.
But when you find that you have given it your all and you still cannot get a job in Norway, always remember it is not you, it is Norway.