Norway seems like the new Eldorado to find a job. Unless…?
Looking for a job in Norway seems like a pretty easy and attractive solution for foreigners. Unemployment rate is low, at 3,8% in 2019 and average salary is high, as seen on this graph from 2018. Obviously it depends on your field, with finance being the oil sector with an average of 6,000 Euros per month before tax. Hospitality is among the lowest paid sectors, with salaries just above 3,000 Euros per month before tax.
Also, Norway rates way up there on all “happiest country in the world” and “most gender equal” nations, so it should be great to live here and easy to get a job, am I right? Well, like often the devil is in the details. The unemployment rate is 5,5% for foreigners, with significant differences depending on where you come from. Those coming from Africa are almost at 10% whereas West Europeans are at 2,9%. If you look at locals excluding immigrants, i.e. Norwegians, we are at 1,7%.
Salaries given in the graph above are also a bit misleading, since they are averages and before taxes. The more you earn in Norway the more you pay in taxes, and more importantly in this case, it is clear from the numbers that foreigners have lower salaries than Norwegians. Those who are best positioned among immigrants in Norway in terms of salary are Australians, New Zealanders and North Americans (Canada and USA). Maybe because they are other White Christian people whom Norwegians can relate to, I guess.
Here are some of the obstacles to getting a job in Norway
1- Your foreign name
Unless you are called Lars Anderson because your family is from Minnesota or you are from Sweden or Denmark with a Scandinavian sounding name, your foreign name however beautiful in your language can be a hindrance to finding a job in Norway. There is more and more coverage in Norwegian media on the phenomenon of foreigners changing name to get a job interview. This discrimination based on the the name is hard to prove if it happens to you, but basically a study from 2012 shows that with the same CV and qualifications, an applicant with a foreign name will have 25% less chances of being called for an interview. Reasons to this could be plain discrimination, but also because employers can think the applicant does not speak Norwegian and prefer hiring a Norwegian to “be sure”. In 2014 already the Discrimination and Equality Ombudsman already said then that this was a real problem in Norway. Not sure what has been done since then to change this trend.
2- Lack of proficiency in Norwegian language
This is a huge obstacle to getting a job in Norway. Mind you. some sectors employ people who do not necessarily speak Norwegian, such as hospitality or international companies in IT for example. But this is less and less true, and even though your job might be in English, they want to know whether you can chat with colleagues at lunch time and integrate in the working culture. For that you need to speak Norwegian.
In most other jobs though, they will want you to have roughly a B1 level (even though it is not necessarily explicitly written in the job offer). See here other articles on How to Pretend to be Fluent in Norwegian and How to Become Fluent in Norwegian (Or Die Trying). See also How to Differentiate between Norwegian Dialects.
3- Your studies in a non-Norwegian university
If a Norwegian employer has a choice between someone who has a degree from a university he or she knows, or even better has studied in, it will most likely be preferred by them to a degree from some obscure university with a name in a foreign language. Imagine, I am French, we have this very high up elitist business school called HEC. But Norwegians have BI. What do you think a French employer would choose: a person who went to BI or to HEC? Well same for a Norwegian employer. They’ll recognise their own first. If you have a foreign degree they will look at the level (Bachelor, Masters) and major, and relevant professional experience. How fancy that school is in your country is irrelevant unless it is very well known internationally like MIT, Harvard or Oxford. Make sure your CV is available in impeccable Norwegian.
If you have no university education and are looking for a non-qualified job, there is definitely work in those fields (for ex. Foodora) and Norwegian skills are usually not required, but the salaries are low and contracts very precarious in terms of workers’ benefits.
4- Your lack of network in Norway
This is I believe the biggest difference with looking for a job abroad. Norway is a small country, people know each other or know of each other. Unless you are in a niche which makes all employers find you on LinkedIn, having a strong network in your field is very important to find a job. Especially since you are a foreigner and start with a few weak points mentioned above. Remember, Norwegians have built their network since teenage years, maybe even childhood, without even noticing. They start as early as teenage years by being members of youth branches of political parties such as AUF, UngVenstre etc. Then they go to “folkehøyskole” and to university and by the time you are looking for a job at the same time as they are, at the same age, they know hundreds of people who are potential future employers or colleagues, or who “knows someone they know”. Basically they have a network and you, nobody knows who you are.
How to get a network? Don’t just apply to jobs but get out there. Go to conferences, talk to people, ask for career advice from professionals in your field and stay positive. For good tips you can check out David Nikel’s excellent book How to Find a Job in Norway, on which I wrote a book review.
5- You lack of knowledge of Norwegian cultural cues
Many do get an interview, but then they may fail at getting the job because of a lack of knowledge of cultural cues. I like to see interviews like a play, or a game. Nobody is really themselves, but people understand what the other means and says although it is not that clear from the outside. I believe every culture has their own interview culture, and Norway is no exception, and I would say it is an exercise one needs to be trained in by a Norwegian person who understand the acceptable and not acceptable answer. One example: if you have a job and applied for another job, you will be asked “Why are you leaving your job?”. You surely have good reasons, my colleague is a pain, I hate my boss, I am bored, my pay is too low, but you won’t say any of that. You will answer “I love my current job, and the working culture there, but there is something about THIS job which makes me want to be here”. (It might be the same elsewhere, but I believe in some countries it is okay to be a bit more direct). Other cues: best not to look too passionate because that can be seen as anger or sign of liking conflict, whereas in other cultures it might be seen positively as having leadership for ex.
Of course the more technical the job, the more expertise you are expected to have, with possible tests. In any case, you will be tested culturally during the whole interview, where they want someone who is both competent and whom they will like to talk to at lunch for the next years. If you are awkward by their standards you might not get the job.
See Weird things Norwegians do During Work Meetings to understand some of those cues (if you are in a work meeting you got the job, so you might have understood at least some of them).
6- Your lack of Norwegian professional experience and Norwegian references
Having no experience in a Norwegian company or institution on your CV can be a challenge. Some people become volunteers at the Red Cross or in a Norwegian organisation to have a Norwegian experience on their CV, and a Norwegian reference.
It is always easier for a Norwegian employer to call someone who speaks their language (and whom they trust…) to confirm the person is a catch. Of course they could call your reference in the UK, South Africa or who knows where, but when given a choice between that and Norwegians references whom sometimes they even know or have heard of, it is hard to compete.
7- Not all job offers are public
Keep in mind that in the public sector all job offers have to be public, but not in the private sector. Nepotism does exist in Norway, or a form of it, but there is not much you can do about it. However what you can do, is to keep your eyes and ears open for jobs which are not advertised, or not yet. Sometimes companies look into relevant candidates they know about and advertise the job offer only if that first step fails. So you need to be on those first interviews before the job is advertised to have higher chances. It is like a flat. Much easier to get it if you are the only one visiting it. You will succeed thanks to your network, your experience, your language skills etc. etc. In other words when you have overcome all or some of the above obstacles.
On the bright side, being a woman in your 30s will not be an obstacle to employment since men also take long paternity leaves. Gender equality has come that far in Norway! Also you do not need to overcome all the above obstacles to find a job, maybe just a few. And despite your initial weaknesses, for ex. Norwegian will never be your native language, you probably have a professional niche of your own, your own native language, and other skills that make you attractive for the Norwegian job market. In any case stay positive despite the many doors being shut in your face. There is nothing less attractive on the job market than a bitter foreigner 😉