torsdag 28. mars 2013

Cultural Do's and Don'ts for New Jobs in Norway

For immigrants, those who "wander in" or are "invaders" as the word "innvandere" suggests, getting permanent contracts can be tough. 

Immigrants are generally seen as a commodity or at best if you are highly skilled, an excellent stop-gap measure for a position, such as covering maternity leave. So you are whatever your background, expendable.  That is a very, very common attitude amongst employers.

To move out of this general stream of being considered "temp", takes time in terms of language skills and cultural adjustment but more importantly a lot of effort. Effort is up to yourself but the cultural fine tuning is actually a very critical part of unlocking access to better jobs and permanent contracts: Here are my tips

1) If you are in a temp positions, use as much effort as you can to get another job offer elsewhere. Otherwise you are a temp-head-count and companies want to keep you as such! This applies equally to Norwgians in fact, but they often find it easier to get other work which is permanent. A "maybe-maybe, see what happens" is usually just as I write, you are a head count which the companies wants to keep expendable and if you put up with it, you will continue as a temp.

Consider negotiating an 80% position if it is a temp one, such that you can use the other day to find a permanent job. In the long run it will be worth going down 20% in pay.

Temping is really only any good for you in the long term if you gain new skills, or work for a medium to large company with good, recognised quality systems or a leading brand name in the sector. See more on this type of issue below

2) don't be a trouble maker. With respect of the above, it is very hard to try and negotiate or use tactical means you may be use to in other countries like the UK or USA, you cannot threaten to leave at a critical point in a project delivery for example. The real option is to have another job offer, even if you dont intend to go really. Then they know that you are not happy and have taken a practical way to solving the issue.

When you are in the trial period for a permanent, most often 6 months, then also you must avoid making trouble. Trial periods are used by some companies to "suck it and see" if they actually need the position in the first place. This is a little biased against immigrants but applies it must be said to naive norgies også.

3) Always talk directly with your prospective manager or director in the application phase. This moves you WAY up the queue because most noggies cant be bothered whereas a lot of employers place a lot of value on contact. It is very easier to gauge also the managers interest: if the position is really filled already or if they are a little racist, or in fact if they expect a far better qualified candidate with a recognised norsk education (NTNU, BI, NHH etc)

4) never talk badly about where you are at the moment or where you have just come from either at interview or in the first six months. Talk positively.

Norgie' bosses and people around you expect a certain boring stability and contentedness with life and view past experiences quite judgementally of YOUR ability to fit into a job socially and in terms of performance rather than accepting that you had a genuinely bad experience.

This is what psychologists call the "fundamental attribution error" :simply , you see your environment as a source for reasons why things go good or bad, whereas other people see first YOU as the source of positive and particlarily negative experiences.

In Norway they had town night watchmen from the late middle ages. Usually a sturdy man, who stood at the gates to a town or rustled about in the streets of a village like a town crier with a long imposing stave with a spiked maice head on it.( today it is a ceremonial and tourist guide position ) When someone new wandered to the gates or streets, they were challenged as to "and where have you just come from"?  followed by " and how was it there ?" . If they replied " oh it was terrible there, people were cruel and there was little work and I struggled to feed myself" Then the watchman would answer " Well I am sorry you will find only more of the same in this small town, I suggest you pass along to the next town where you may find better conditions"

Norgie' bosses expect that people have it pretty good here and nothing much to complain about! The culture for moaning you find in some offices is little evident, and if you find yourself in such an office then they are either a bunch of cynics or you actually have landed in a crappy employer!

When you are chagning jobs and looking for promotion, talking up the positive aspects of your current work place, and the positive social aspects is really good and makes the new employer think about making a really tantalising offer to secure you! This has just happened with me, much higher pay in the new job I have taken! Hurray!

5) "Prøveperioden" : The six months on trial.

i) fit in, keep your head down : A trial it can be. Here you are in the spotlight often. Can you do the job? Well that is often the least of the focus. HOW you do the job, how willing you are to tackle things is very important. Also how you fit in socially with your critical employees around you.

Just a few small black marks can be enough for you to be put under a big question mark for permanency.

They say you have to "swallow a few camels" and have "ice in your stomach" here which is very true in the trial period. Keeping a low profile while maintaining enough engagement in your work is good. Be keen, but be precise and not over keen. Go over and over critical tasks and follow up on what is happening with those you have placed in others hands for actions: do this without being pushy, just methodical.

ii) don't show any miscontent in the first six months. Unless there is some form for very poor and unfair dealing and you are entering into tasks which were not explained to you. This can be why it is good to work a couple of months thorugh a temp bureaux in a new type of job so that you learn the trip-wires and monkeys-thrown-off-others-backs to avoid in the trial period for a permanent position. Be a nice litte boy or girl. Dress like others at work, avoid taking too much sick leave, accept tasks with positivyt and be assertive in what the task and objectives are without seeming to be sceptical.

Later on you can cast monkeys off your own back. Also you are of course somewhat free to do the next

iv) If the job is not very demanding, worm your way in very slowly to new tasks and project responsibility or rather engagement. Be careful. Softly softly catch a monkey! take it slowly and do v:

v) Dont take too much initiative or come to bosses with fait-accomplis. Norwegians use a lot of "Kanskje" and open questioning to establish situations, opportunities and problems (challenges) : they are a bit snake like in asking because they know that bosses can be teflon in answering if they feel pressed into a corner.

vi) Initiative should be however be orientated around finding solutions to problems or new, small solutions and  opportunities and taking them to the boss to air them: explain them, and let the boss come back with comments: use of a pause instead of a leading question so the boss has time to digest it and sees that there is no pressure here: it is a conversation and a suggestion, not a fait-accomplis!

Also in terms of initiative, judge your position and its sphere of operation and influence: if the company or department is very established you probably want to back down your eagerness and ambition for responsibility in the 6 months and actually the first year.

If however there is a lot of work, a lot of challenges and you know 100% you can contribute and you can tackle the norsk language vocabulary for the area,  or better still English is the lead language then you can indeed strethc your neck out.

Initiative in asking for more work volume is good BUT ONLY after you do as I say above: be double sure you have quality control on your own work and admin, have traceability and can answer things on the spot or refer to a way you will. Then you can ask for more work, but it can be better to go through things more and do the next thing :

vi) Make social contact via work tasks, avoid e-mail to people you havent met first or at least spoken to in the firm and externally. This is very important: it is norwegian sensible culture: if something is important then it needs to be discussed face to face. E-mails go unread without this, and I think that is healthy. Also it breaks down the "immigrant barrier" which is important. Face to face, press the flesh.

Remember softly softly! If you are dealing with a key person in another department, ask how they are to deal with from your co-workers. The same with suppliers and customers. Come with a subtle approach and be modest.

vii) remember Jantes law: be modest, be small a litte false modesty and soft language goes a long way. Dont blow your trumpet , use reverse psychology. You often should avoid stating what you have responsibility for in general or your level in the chain, but rahter talk in the third person and about the company in getting something done.

I find this a bit irritating, but this one point alone in terms of culture and langauge is a huge key in the lock of Norway and in fact it has helped me with my own self esteem and awareness: I think I was a bit of a pushy type who demanded things and grabbed responsibility withouth maybe being granted the  authority to do so!

Last year I found myself a little out on a wing, my boss left and the new boss was very much of the strategy type - ie a bit distant: He played very softly softly in his first two months. I carried on with my projects without involving him much, or when I did it was a it faite-accomplis, or I need a decision now! This lead to a great deal of uncertainty of the level of  responsibility my first boss had given me and because I flew alone I lost a great deal of my responsibilty when the department employed new staff, who were very much more experienced than me. However I took it on the chin and sorted out very much what I had in front of me and some contract manufacturers wanted me BACK in the driving seat because I took responsibility, came to practical solutions and made things happen. The Divisional director heard good things about me from two key contractors.

I should have built up more of a profile with my new boss, and involved him more in my decision making. I ended up being a bit stunted for promotion because of that, and had taken less money that i really need to live off, so just put this all down to learnign and moved companies  with my new learning of both applications and the culture of modesty but confidence here!

vii) I'd say a s a follow up to the last job: involve your boss and your coworkers / key facilitators around you in a social dialogue which shows your competence without you needing to say it, shows your engagement and involves them in your work so you can judge how much initiative to take, or be given more freedom to act.

I think also involving your departmental director on occaision is good, but be very careful here. Happy camper, sorted out a problem with help of key facilitators and involcement of your boss is the safe approach! Took grand initiative, trod on toes, got it fixed in brilliant fashion is a really no-no.

Charming bosses above your own line manager is often a way women get on and being in the sports team with them is often used by men to get on!

iiX) Social expectations: if you go into a work place or any social group in norway, then dont come with expectations on being pals with everyone and somehow being really matey with someone you have a lot in common with. Norwegians are very stand off with that personal barrier to being IN with them a s a pal or being in their social circle. The best approach is to join in sports activities where you are on a level playing field ( ie probably NOT cross country skiing) and make sure you go on company nights out if they suit you and you feel like being sociable, but relaxed. Finding one pal who is a bit more extrovert and has good social circles is a good start but it can be that others in the circle dont like it! Shit I know, but making new friends is hard in Norway: not so hard if you are Norsk, but still relatively tough for them if they move to either a large city or the converse,  a small inbred community like the one I have to put up with right now!

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