A new year is approaching and often it is a time for people to think about where they are headed. Some people think Norway would be a good place to work – they have heard about all the benefits and the good working conditions. However, it isn’t as easy to get a job in Norway as you might think. If you are looking for some insider perspective, then this is for you:
In order to be successful in getting work in Norway, you need to know the odds. The odds are against you. If you are not qualified, if you are over qualified, if you don’t already live in Norway or if you don’t speak Norwegian fluently, it is likely you won’t get the job. Most ‘success stories’ you hear about people getting jobs in Norway are from International employers where English is the working language.
In my personal story, the reason why I get jobs without speaking fluent Norwegian (well, to be fair, now I just speak bad Norwegian) is because: 1) I work in the Arts where English is generally a must. I work regularly with international artists and my English has actually been a benefit for my employer. 2) I have qualifications that you can’t get in Norway. I also have work experience that you can’t get in Norway. 3) I am qualified in many areas of my industry, so am very versatile. 4) I have very good connections. 5) I already live in Norway. 6) I have a Norwegian family, support, responsibility. 7) I always seem to be in the right place at the right time. 8) I have a fantastic reputation that I built through getting involved in the community. Yes, luck has had a lot to do with it. I got the job I’m in now because someone saw me perform at a private birthday party. Word-of-mouth and connections are very important in getting jobs in Norway. The job that I am in doesn’t exist in Australia; I’ve had to come to the other side of the world to find and live my dream job. Not everyone is as lucky as me, not by a long shot. Believe me, I am very grateful and I feel blessed that all my hard work over the last 20 years has paid off. But unfortunately my experience is very rare.
Norway is a small town, so referrals and networks play a strong active role in getting employment. Norwegians trust people they know and like to employ people they know. Norwegians watch out for each other. Especially in small cities and towns, Norwegians give each other a fair go, they help each other out, so everyone benefits. A lot of outsiders don’t understand the importance of a community working together for its own survival. In the cold, dark winters of Norway everyone needs each other to live. You can understand how outsiders from dog-eat-dog over-populated cities from around the world can throw things off balance in Norway.
In recent years, I have seen Norway starting to pull shut. There is not as much room for outsiders as there used to be. It might be a good thing, but it also might mean Norway will fall behind in the stakes for an elite workforce like the USA, UK and Australia. And there is the struggle – the conflict of progress. But Norway hasn’t closed off completely, not just yet. There are still avenues to a working life if you are realistic and accept your limitations. I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who are in the position of employing people so I’m going to give you some insider knowledge on what they are looking for, just coz I like you so much!
On average, for most descent career-jobs advertised, there are at least 40 to 60 applicants, depending. All the applicants who do not speak Norwegian are binned without question. All the people who are under-qualified are binned. And all the people who are over-qualified, especially with PhDs, are binned. All the people who do not live in Norway, and if the company doesn’t want to go through the hassle of immigrating them, are binned. That generally leaves about five people left to sort through. Out of that, two or three make it to interview. However, all this process is just a law-abiding routine when they have already chosen someone internally to take the job. Remember, a good amount of jobs are filled even before a job is advertised in Norway.
Even though unemployment is low in Norway, full-time employment is also low. Many Norwegians, especially in smaller cities, have to take on two or three jobs to be full-time employed. The way that they do this is like a job share system. Rather than employees sharing a full-time job, employers share a full-time employee. Kommunes and other government agencies do this a lot to reduce costs in each department. For example a secretary could be hired to work for the front desk at the kommune office, the front desk at the Middle school and then a day at the front desk of a nursing home. When a job comes up in the government, current employees of the government get first dibs. As I work for the government, I can tell you, that all part-time employees fill out forms stating if we want to increase our hours and wish to be considered for any job offers within our sector. So when you think about it, every State run institution (the government is the biggest employer in Norway) operates like this – universities, schools, libraries, hospitals, transport, buildings and roads, etc. Private employers also operate like this when they can. The point – getting into the system is hard, but once you are in you can benefit.
Many jobs are offered on a one year basis, with option to extend. This is so 1) employers can trial an employee before committing. It is very hard to fire an employee in Norway. Often you need government approval and Unions are very pro-active. The regular trial period is three to six months to quit or be fired without consequences. One year temporary positions give employers a way around the law but also means that they have a way out if they don’t have the funds anymore (which happens more often than not) to keep the position open. And 2) A lot of times an employer’s budget only allows the employment of a person for one year. They create ‘project’ work. This means they only take on a one year expense rather than a lifetime expense of an employee. You’ll find that not as many jobs are on offer when the government is about to change – each governemnt likes to cut funding and no one likes to be stuck with an employee they can’t afford.
I’m amazed at how many people go for these positions. Two years ago, Moose and I did an experiment. He applied for a førstekonsulent position for fun – a first consultant position, which is just a basic administration job. It was for a one year appointment with option to extend at the Finnmark Høgskolen (now non-exstistant). These jobs are a dime-a-dozen. Because this was a public position, they were required to let all applicants know who else had applied for the job. We received all the other applicants information, bar name. It was rather scary to have such details – as an Australian such stuff is generally private. There were 41 applicants from all over the country. There were many just out of High School with no credentials, and also immigrants with minimal education, but there were also a large amount of 40+ female applicants that had many years of higher education, and some were currently studying. There were only a few applicants that had basic admin education (which you would think would be a given for an admin job) but the oddest thing was the amount of people who were working on or who had their Master degree in a Humanities subject. There were a good handful that had several degrees. These people also had a long list of part time admin jobs over many years, bouncing around from sector to kommune. Their education screamed overqualified, but their job experiences were just secretaries or basic administration workers. This is what happens in a population that is spread out over small cities – over qualified people that have to take basic jobs because of where they live. Nearly all ‘capital’ kommunes have a higher education facility. It means that when people can’t get jobs, they study. The more they are jobless, the more they study, creating an over-educated population for the jobs that are available. The person who got the position was a local 40+ year old woman who was currently doing a Maters in the Humanities and who was already working part-time at a tourist venue. The next week the tourist centre opened a one year part-time job.
Through further investigation and observations it has become clear that our city, at least, has a group of 40+ highly educated women bouncing around from entry job to entry job. They are ‘one year appointment’ freelancers, or ‘temporaries’. When a job comes up, they are the first to be asked because they are known, trusted and are usually available on short notice to take the job. These ‘free-movers’ are very handy especially in small communities where many jobs have time limits to reduce costs.
These ‘temporaries’ are great for the permanent employees. It is common for permanent employees to take a break from work, to study, to go on an extended vacation or to develop a project, a sabbatical, if you will. Good employers like it because it generally means the employee revitalizes (as it is still common for employees to stay in a job for a lifetime). Adding new employees shift things around a little and enhances the workplace. I find that good employers are very flexible and accommodating. In my work employees take time off all the time to study and to travel and to go to conferences because it is seen as part of developing a good employee, and a good human. Norway is focused on quality of life for all people. And I work for the government! I’ve also seen private companies allow employees to create their own work hours, perhaps working three 12 hour days and taking a four day weekend. Employers tend to trust their employees. There are no meters or clocking-ins. The goal of most good employers is to create a happy and pleasant working life for all. But, of course, those private entities touched by a commercialized world have different objectives. The woman above who got the job at the Høgskolen likely was on a ‘job-break’ and would return to her usual part time job at the tourist centre once her one year appointment was finished at the tertiary institution. The point – you have to compete with the locals who know and work the system, but if you get in, work life is amazing (depending on your agreements).
We have a big mining employer in the north who look for full-time permanent employees. When they hire they don’t look for potential, they look for who is perfect for the job – Norwegian language, at least a degree for the laboratory or the relevant certificates for the mine. They have been employing for a long time. They know that PhD employees are always looking for something better and will likely leave when they find it. They know that younger employees will likely leave also because they are still establishing their lives and the far north is not that great on your social life. The working language is Norwegian and because there are a truck load of safety rules in the mining industry it is essential that employees know Norwegian. However, they are still open to ‘exceptions’ out of necessity. I know of one Australian who got a job at the company with only little Norwegian, BUT, he had the right degree in geology, he already lived in the Arctic city and he was personal friends with one of the other workers. The point – you have to be in the right place and know the right people if you don’t speak the language. You need to prove you are a ‘keeper’ if you want a permanent job, and that usually means having a family or paying off a house. Your position in life says a lot about you and your motives. All the promises in the world won’t make an employer believe you will stay after initial training – your life situation comes into play.
Another large energy company in the north gets an insane load of applications when they advertise jobs, many from other countries. When they get an application that is more than a few pages, it gets binned. Apparently, European countries, especially from the East, are in the habit of telling their life story in job resumés, which turns HR off. People from English speaking countries are too sparse with their information. They write all their education and work experience but say nothing about themselves. In fact, many Norwegian companies want to know what your hobbies are, what you like to do for physical activity and if you are a member of any clubs. Norwegians socialize a lot at work. They want employees who will fit into their working life, who will be a good addition to their tight group, especially since they will be working with you for eight hours a day for the next twenty years. They need to know you will get on with everyone and everyone will get on with you. During the dark season, especially in the north where depression, insomnia and fatigure are normal, and everyone is stuck at work because of a freaky storm and a two meter dump of snow blocking the door, they need to know you are not going to go all ‘Jack Torrance’ on them. It takes a special type of person to survive Norway, especially the North, if they aren’t Norwegian already. The point – you need to be likable and sane, and you need to show it. Norwegians like NORMAL, positive, friendly and welcoming co-workers, who are reserved with their personal commentary.
People looking for work in Norway need to realize that Norway is a very small place. There are only 5 million people in the country and only half of them are working. There is just not that much need for a big workforce. For example, from Statsnorway there were only 54,700 job vacancies, most of them were part time (from 10%) in the third quarter of 2014 – down 4400 from last year. In fact, take a look at all the job vacancies for each sector over the last few years:
There’s not really that much going around for a whole country, and these are jobs for Norwegians. Pickings are slim. If you have a look at how many immigrants are actually working in Norway, it gives you an idea of the jobs available for immigrant workers:
The table above shows only the representation of immigrant workers in different sectors. For example, take the Alle næringer with both men and women/ Begge kjønn, it says 96 for 2012. Now that is not a percentage. That is a ratio that reflects the ratio of immigrants in the area of business. In practicality, the immigrant population is just under 20% in Norway, and lets make it 20% to be easy. So, in all businesses immigrants are not represented 20% but are pretty close – about 18%. If you have a look at the different sectors, cleaning Rengjøringsvirksomhet has 542% representation in 2012, meaning that most cleaners are immigrants. Likewise with hotels and accommodation Overnattingsvirsomhet at 373% representation. Another interesting thing that you’ll find if you follow the link below to the webpage with the stats (all in Norwegian) is that cleaners are mostly African and Asian, and Primary and Secondary Industries Primær- og sekundærnæringer are mostly Western men, and higher education staff Undervisning and Health Helsetjenester are mostly Western women. One of these sectors is the biggest employer of immigrants but also the lowest paying. I bet you can guess which one that is.
I would suggest studying the links below so you can work out for yourself the odds of getting a job in Norway. Remember, you have to compete with all Norwegians, who will always be first. Then comes the Scandinavian language immigrants – the Swedes and the Danes. Then comes anyone else who knows the language better than you. Then comes anyone else who lives in Norway, or has the correct qualifications and can do what other Norwegians can not do. Then comes the people who are settled with responsibility and family. Then, usually if employers can’t find the person they want, they won’t employ – they’ll wait until next year to advertise again.
So to be on top – 1. Correct EDUCATION; 2. Fluent NORWEGIAN; 3. Living IN NORWAY.